Updated on October 28, 2023
If you have been arrested and charged with criminal mischief in Texas, but you do not know what it means, read on to find out how the Texas Penal Code defines this criminal offense.
In Texas, you can be charged with criminal mischief when you damage or tamper with someone else’s property. Common examples of activities that may lead to criminal mischief charges are graffiti and vandalism.
While criminal mischief charges may not strike you as serious, the State of Texas takes these acts against someone else's property very seriously. Depending upon how serious the damage you are alleged to have caused is, the charges can range from a misdemeanor to a Class I felony. In other words, you should take criminal mischief charges extremely seriously.
Speak with a Round Rock criminal defense attorney if you have been arrested for criminal mischief and do not know how to defend yourself.
How Does Texas Law Define Criminal Mischief?
According to Texas Penal Code § 28.03, when a person vandalizes or damages tangible property that belongs to someone else, it is considered criminal mischief. Tangible property is anything that can be touched, including real property and personal property.
To rise to the level of criminal mischief, the accused must have knowingly or intentionally performed the act in question without the property owner’s effective consent. Thus, even if you think that a drawing can improve the appearance of a building, you cannot draw anything unless you have the owner’s effective consent. Otherwise, you can face criminal mischief charges.
It is also important to note that you could be charged with criminal mischief even if you were not the one who committed the offense. If you were involved in the offense in any way, you risk having criminal mischief charges brought against you.
Criminal mischief can come in several forms, including the following offenses:
You know graffiti when you see it on buildings, walls, trains, garages, and much more. Graffiti refers to the act of knowingly marking someone else’s tangible property with any of the following:
Characters and other kinds of marks
The content of the graffiti can affect the seriousness of the charge if it includes threatening language or an insult of some kind (for example, a racist, sexist, ethnic, or religious slur). Teenagers are often charged with this variety of criminal mischief.
Tampering with Property
Tampering with property refers to intentionally or knowingly tampering with someone else’s tangible property in a manner that causes the other person to suffer a loss or to be inconvenienced in some way.
Even hiding something of someone else’s on his or her own property—and inconveniencing that person in the process—can rise to the level of a criminal mischief charge.
Now that many residences have security cameras, these charges are becoming more common and easier to prove.
Destruction of Property
Destruction of property is exactly what it sounds like—intentionally or knowingly destroying or damaging someone else's tangible property. Breaking windows, damaging lawn decorations, and other such acts generally suffice to warrant destruction of property charges.
Charges of destruction of property, more than any other kind of criminal mischief, are the most likely to end in felony charges—even without aggravating circumstances.
The State of Texas draws a line between harmless pranks and pranks that are considered to be criminal mischief. Most of us have pulled a prank or two in our day, but if that prank causes property damage to the person being pranked, it can cross the line into criminal mischief.
For example, throwing an egg on someone’s car seems fairly harmless, but if it damages the vehicle’s paint, it’s a different matter. Further, festooning a yard with toilet paper is a classic in the prank playbook, but if the property owners experience damages as a result – or have to spend hours cleaning the mess away – they may not see it that way.
Identifying Tangible Property
Criminal mischief charges can apply to both public and private property. Public property – or property that the public has access to – includes all the following types of property:
Property used for public communication or transportation
Flood control property, including dams
Public water supplies and devices, public gas or power supplies, and other sources that provide public services
Places of worship, public monuments, and cemeteries
Community centers that provide educational, social, or medical programs
The following are all examples of tangible private property:
Houses, apartments, and other residences, including their walls, windows, roofs, garages, and decks
Mailboxes, fences, and gates
Gardens, lawn ornaments, greenhouses, garden walls, and related items
Playgrounds, including their recreational equipment
The tools and equipment of one’s trade, including storage boxes and trailers
Cars, SUVs, trucks, and other motor vehicles, including their windshields, tires, and gas tanks
Businesses, including their signage and displays
In other words, the charge of criminal mischief is broad. As such, you need a seasoned Round Rock criminal defense attorney by your side to guide you through the intricacies of your case.
What Are Examples of Criminal Mischief in Texas?
There is a wide range of activities that may lead to criminal mischief charges in Texas. Some of the most common examples of criminal mischief include the following offenses:
Damaging, defacing, or destroying private or public property: Common examples are graffiti and paintings on a wall.
Damaging someone’s motor vehicle: Common examples include scratching car paint with keys and breaking car windows.
Damaging a place of business: Common examples include breaking doors, windows, signs, or fixtures owned by a business.
Damaging school property: Common examples are breaking windows, writing on desks, and painting on school walls.
Damaging a home or habitation: Common examples include breaking a fence, painting on walls and fences, and breaking windows.
As the extent of the damage rises, so, too, do the associated legal penalties. Contact a Round Rock criminal defense attorney today to build a defense that can help you lessen or avoid these penalties altogether.
Vandalism Cases in Texas Spotlighted in the News
Vandalism can take many different forms, and in some instances, the significance of the act makes the news.
An Historic Mission
On June 28, one or more vandals attempted to break into the historic Mission San José, causing damage to its famous Rose Window – according to CBS News.
This San Antonio mission, which is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas, interweaves Spanish and indigenous cultures and bears cultural significance throughout the world. The damaged Rose Window was sculpted in 1775 and is considered to be one of North America’s finest examples of baroque architecture.
The chair of the church’s parish council shares that the area has recently been hit by an increase in vandalism that, up to this point, had been quite minor.
A Church Vandalized Twice
The Dallas Morning News reports that a church in North Texas was vandalized in September of 2022 for the second time in less than two months.
The vandalism involved graffiti that included a racist slur accompanied by about a dozen swastikas and the scrawled message, “not my best work yet.” The vandals also lit two outdoor plants and a dumpster on fire.
The mayor of McKinney, the church’s location, denounced the vandalism and relayed that it was not representative of the community.
What Are the Penalties for Criminal Mischief in Texas?
The punishment for a criminal mischief conviction in Texas can range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, depending on the circumstances of the offense.
Whether you can be convicted of a misdemeanor or felony depends on the extent of the damage done to the tangible property.
The penalties associated with criminal mischief are generally in direct relation to the cost associated with the damaged property, as outlined below:
Damages under $100 are classified as Class C misdemeanors, which carry maximum fines of $500.
Damages between $100 and $750 are classified as Class B misdemeanors, which carry up to 180 days in jail and up to $2,000 in fines.
Damages between $750 and $2,500 are classified as Class A misdemeanors, which carry up to one year in jail and up to $4,000 in fines.
Damages between $2,500 and $30,000 are state jail felonies that are punishable by up to two years in jail and by fines of up to $10,000.
Damages between $30,000 and $150,000 are third-degree felonies that are punishable by up to ten years in jail and by fines of up to $10,000.
Damages between $150,000 and $300,000 are second-degree felonies punishable by up to twenty years in jail and by fines of up to $10,000.
Damages higher than $300,000 are first-degree felonies punishable by up to 99 years in prison and by fines of up to $10,000.
In other words, causing damage to a property is a misdemeanor when the amount of damage is less than $2,500. If the damage is more than $2,500, you can be convicted of a felony. If there are multiple incidents of criminal mischief involved, which there often are, the prosecutor can combine the values to increase the charge and the potential fines and penalties.
However, criminal mischief may still be classified as a felony even if the amount of damage does not exceed $2,500, if any of the following circumstances apply:
The perpetrator used a firearm or explosive device to cause damage to someone else’s habitation.
The damaged property was a fence for horses, cattle, goats, sheep, swine, or livestock or poultry.
The damaged property was a fence for game animals.
Being convicted of such a felony can lead to significant fines and up to two years in jail. It can also bring the stigma of being permanently branded as a felon. Even if your offense is not a felony, criminal mischief misdemeanor charges are criminal charges—the effects of which should never be underestimated.
Don’t risk facing these consequences alone. Contact a Round Rock criminal defense attorney to help you build your strongest possible defense against the charges you face.
Serious Social Consequences
In addition to the legal consequences of a criminal mischief conviction, it’s important to consider the social consequences that can make your life more challenging in many ways. Consider all the following consequences that spring from a criminal conviction:
A conviction can affect your ability to get a job.
A conviction can affect your ability to rent an apartment or house or to obtain a home loan.
A conviction can interfere with your ability to grow your career.
A conviction can negatively affect your professional licensure.
A conviction can make it impossible to get a federal student loan, gain acceptance to the college of your choice, or live on campus.
A conviction can tarnish your social standing in ways you may not have even considered.
A criminal conviction is a matter of public record, which means it can haunt you far into the future.
Can I Face Criminal Mischief Charges If I Did Not Intend to Cause Damage?
People mistakenly believe that they can be charged with criminal mischief even when they did not intend to cause damage to someone else’s tangible property.
However, as mentioned earlier, one of the requirements to convict someone of criminal mischief is to prove that he or she acted intentionally or knowingly. In other words, the prosecutor must be able to prove both of these elements to convict you of criminal mischief in Texas:
You knew what you were doing.
You were aware of what possible consequences might be.
If you had no knowledge that your actions would cause damage to someone else’s property and you had no intention to damage the tangible property of another person, the prosecutor would not be able to convict you of criminal mischief.
It is vital to seek the legal counsel of an experienced Round Rock criminal defense lawyer to build an effective defense strategy for you to avoid a conviction.
What Are the Potential Defenses to Criminal Mischief Charges in Texas?
If you are facing criminal mischief charges in Texas, it is critical to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer to get the charges dismissed or reduced.
Lack of Evidence
In order to convict you of criminal mischief, the prosecutor has to rely on witness statements or evidence to prove that you committed the offense. Without witness statements and physical evidence, including photographs and surveillance camera footage, the prosecution may have a hard time proving your guilt.
If the prosecution doesn’t have sufficient proof that you committed a criminal mischief offense, your Round Rock criminal defense attorney may be able to convince the judge that you cannot be convicted due to the lack of evidence.
Lack of Intent
Keep in mind that the prosecution must prove that you knowingly or intentionally damaged or destroyed the tangible property of another person or entity. If you did not intend to damage or destroy the property, you cannot be convicted of criminal mischief.
Your attorney can also argue that the damage that was done to the property is so minor that you cannot be convicted of criminal mischief. The higher the value of the damage, the more serious the punishment, but if the damage was negligible, you may be able to avoid a conviction.
Presence of Owner’s Consent
If you had the property owner’s effective consent, you can avoid a conviction. However, proving that you had the owner’s permission to damage, deface, or destroy his or her property is rarely an effective defense.
While there are more security cameras than ever before in both residential and commercial areas, the footage is often grainy, which can make it difficult – if not impossible – to clearly identify the person captured on film.
Further, eyewitness identifications are not failproof. Our memories simply are not mirror images of our experiences. Too often, memory fails, and the wrong person is identified.
Just because an eyewitness has identified you as the culprit or there is footage of someone who might be you does not mean that you have committed the crime, and your attorney will build a strong case that emphasizes this fact.
Your Attorney’s Role
Your criminal defense attorney will take on the critical task of building your strongest defense while skillfully guiding your case toward its most advantageous outcome. This responsibility can include all the following actions as needed in your case:
Ensuring that you understand your rights and that you do everything within your power to protect them
Carefully gathering and compiling all the available evidence, including ensuring that the prosecution shares all the evidence it has
Taking the testimony of any eyewitnesses
Encouraging the prosecution to drop the charge against you or to reduce it in terms of degree
Negotiating a plea deal with the prosecution that protects your rights and upholds your best interests
Weaving all the available evidence and testimony into a strong defense
Preparing to take your case to court if that is determined to be the best path forward
The fact is that even a relatively minor seeming criminal mischief charge can negatively affect your future, which means it is always best to take the matter seriously from the start and work closely with a savvy Round Rock criminal defense attorney.
Contact a Round Rock Criminal Defense Attorney
Criminal mischief charges are serious charges that can end with you facing felony charges. If you or your child is facing criminal mischief charges in Texas, speak with a Round Rock criminal defense attorney right away.
At The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard, our skilled criminal lawyers are dedicated to fighting for your rights and protecting your freedom at all costs. Call (254) 781-4222 or contact us online to review your specific situation and determine the best defenses to criminal mischief charges in your case.