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Is Criminal Mischief More Than Pranks and Dares?

Pranks and Dares: Understanding Criminal Mischief

Criminal mischief in New Jersey is an offense that can leave those convicted facing serious punishment. Whether spray painting someone’s garage door, firing paintballs at private or public property, or other types of vandalism, criminal mischief may involve pranks that are done on a dare, intentional actions, or even by accident in some cases. Those who have been charged with criminal mischief may want to consider scheduling a free consultation with experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Forrester Law Firm at 609-613-1513.

Conduct Constituting Criminal Mischief in New Jersey

The term “criminal mischief” covers a wide range of actions from those that are seemingly minor, to actions that are more serious. A person may go to a friend’s house, and after getting no response at the door, kick it in. Perhaps someone breaks out a window with a large rock, baseball, or other item. Spraying graffiti on private or public property is common. These are relatively minor types of vandalism. The criminal mischief charges become more serious when someone tampers with utilities (electric, gas, water, etc.), public transportation, a grave site, or other public property.

Elements Necessary for Criminal Mischief Conviction

According to New Jersey Courts there are four elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for a defendant to be found guilty. These include:

  • Tangible (real or physical) property was damaged by the defendant
  • The property that was damaged belonged to another person
  • When the defendant damaged the property, he/she acted in a negligent or reckless manner
  • Explosives, fire, or other dangerous means were used by the defendant to cause damage to the property (or hazardous waste or pollutants as described by New Jersey Courts)

Depending on the facts of the case, a person may be charged with misdemeanor or felony criminal mischief. Misdemeanor offenses are less serious than felony offenses, however the penalties can still be serious and negatively impact a person’s life.

Degrees of Criminal Mischief Charges

There are varying degrees of criminal mischief a person may be charged with in New Jersey. All depend on factors including the type of property involved, extent of damage, monetary loss related to the crime, and whether others were injured in the commission of the offense.

Disorderly persons offense: Property damage of $500 dollars or less is an act of criminal mischief that results in a disorderly persons offense charge.

Fourth degree criminal mischief: Property damage of between $500 and $2,000 will result in a fourth-degree criminal mischief charge; this is also the charge when an act results in damage to an air traffic device, airport, public utility (gas, oil, water pipes),aviation facility, or landing field.

Third degree criminal mischief: Property damage of $2,000 or more will result in a third-degree criminal mischief charge; this is also the charge when an act results in significant interruption of a public communication or utility system, bodily injury of another individual, damage or disruption of research facility property, or destruction/damage of a grave mausoleum, or crypt.

Second degree criminal mischief: Reckless death caused by destroying or tampering with equipment used in performing a public service, or the destruction of any mechanism used at an airport to regulate air traffic will results in a second-degree criminal mischief charge

Charges of criminal mischief in New Jersey vary widely; regardless of the alleged offense, you may want to consider visiting with a criminal defense attorney at The Forrester Law Firm.

Criminal Mischief Penalties

As you would expect, the penalties imposed on individuals found guilty of criminal mischief become harsher when the crime is more serious. Second degree criminal mischief is the most serious charge of all, while graffiti is usually the least serious. Penalties for those convicted may include:

Disorderly persons offense - Fines of up to $1,000 and/or jail imprisonment for up to six months

Fourth degree crime - Fines of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for six to 18 months

Third degree crime - Fines of up to $15,000 and/or imprisonment for three to five years.

Second degree crime - Fines of up to $150,000 and/or imprisonment for five to 10 years

Graffiti - When graffiti is involved in property damage the accused may be required to perform community service for as long as it takes to remove the graffiti, or for at least 20 days; repayment of the cost of property damage may also be required

Defendants who are convicted of criminal mischief in New Jersey not only face the above punishment but may have a permanent criminal record that can impact employment, housing, and other aspect of their lives. Additionally, if the defendant is found guilty of another criminal mischief offense it may result in five or more years behind bars.

A Special Note Regarding Graffiti

In New Jersey, those caught spraying graffiti may be charged with a crime. While it may seem that spray painting a wall is not that big a deal, graffiti encompasses much more including the defacement of a vehicle, structure, building, or other property regardless of whether that property is public or private. Spray painting is not the only type of graffiti; others include making an inscription or mark, drawing, or other action that defaces property. Kids and teens often commit vandalism without realizing the seriousness of their actions; peers may dare them to do things they otherwise would not do. An experienced lawyer can provide legal guidance in these situations and may be able to help minimize the consequences for those accused of graffiti or other criminal mischief charges.

Consider Scheduling a Consultation with The Forrester Law Firm

Everyone makes mistakes; most people do not realize the seriousness of their actions until they find themselves facing criminal charges. Vandalism and pranks can have serious consequences, depending on the extent of damage and other factors. Prosecutors must prove every element of a crime for a defendant to be found guilty; the top priority of a New Jersey criminal defense attorney is to prevent a conviction if possible, or have charges dismissed completely. Those who need guidance regarding criminal mischief in New Jersey may want to consider visiting with an attorney at The Forrester Law Firm by calling 609-613-1513.

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