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 the criminal offense of “criminal mischief.”
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.
In fact, you could be charged with criminal mischief even if you were not actually the one who committed the offense but were involved with the perpetrator.
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, a person can be charged with criminal mischief when they “intentionally” or “knowingly”:
Damage or destroy someone else’s tangible property;
Tamper with another person’s tangible property, causing losses or substantial inconvenience; or
Make any markings (graffiti, inscriptions, drawings, etc.) on someone else’s tangible property.
Under Texas law, you can be convicted of criminal mischief if you (a) acted intentionally or knowingly and (b) did not have 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
Note: Under the Texas Penal Code, tangible property is anything that can be touched, including real property and personal property.
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.
Generally, 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.
However, criminal mischief may still be classified as a felony even if the amount of damage does not exceed $2,500, if:
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; or
The damaged property was a fence for game animals.
Can I Face Criminal Mischief Charges 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 they acted intentionally or knowingly. In other words, the prosecutor must be able to prove one of these elements to convict you of criminal mischief in Texas:
You knew what you were doing; or
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 criminal defense lawyer to build an effective defense strategy for you to avoid a conviction.
What Are the 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:
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.
Causing damage to 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 others.
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. 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.
In the absence of witness statements and physical evidence, including photographs and surveillance camera footage, the prosecution may have a hard time proving your guilt.
If that is the case, your Round Rock criminal defense attorney may be able to convince the judge that you cannot be convicted due to the lack of evidence.
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. Note: The higher the value of the damage, the more serious the punishment.
Finally, 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 their property is rarely an effective defense.