If you are accused of intentionally damaging property in the Houston area, you may be facing a charge of criminal mischief. Criminal mischief involves intentionally or knowingly damaging the property of another person or defacing property with graffiti. Less commonly, it can also be charged for interfering or disrupting public utilities, like electricity, water or telephone services.
Almost every criminal mischief case filed in the Houston area involves an accusation that a person damaged the property of another person. Typical examples are breaking doors, slashing tires or keying cars, or breaking windows. The potential punishment for a criminal mischief is based on the amount of damages. In Texas the around are as follows:
- Under $100 is a Class C misdemeanor
- $100 to $750 is a Class B misdemeanor
- $750 to $2500 is a Class A misdemeanor
- $2500 to $30,000 is a State Jail Felony
- $30,000 to $150,000 is a Third-Degree Felony
- $150,000 to $300,000 is a Second-Degree Felony
- $300,000 or more is a First-Degree Felony
The vast majority of criminal mischief cases involve damages under $2500 and are therefore filed as misdemeanors. The value of the alleged damage will often be at issue in criminal mischief cases. To prove the value of the damage, it will be necessary for the owner of the damaged property to provide an estimate of the damages. In addition to establishing that the defendant is responsible for the damage, the State must also prove the value of the alleged damage beyond a reasonable doubt, and it is possible for a defendant to contest the value.
In order to get a criminal mischief case dismissed, your criminal defense attorney will need to obtain the evidence. In a typical criminal mischief case, this includes the police report, photographs, 911 call, and witness statements. As noted above, documents establishing the value of the damage are also an important part of the case, especially if proving a lower value could get a case reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Once the evidence has been received, a criminal defense attorney should challenge the case in every way possible. Proving that the defendant is not responsible for the crime, when possible, could lead to a dismissal. To do this, a criminal defense attorney may need to get creative and obtain witness statements, videos, or cell phone records. On occasion, the only way that the State can prove that a defendant committed a crime is by using their confession. In these cases, a criminal defense attorney should challenge the admission of the confession if it was obtained illegally.
Next, it may be possible to obtain a dismissal if it can be shown that the damage was not done knowingly or intentionally. Although there may be no question that a defendant committed the damage, it must be established by the State that it was done knowingly or intentionally. Under Texas Penal Code 28.04, damaging property recklessly (which is a lower standard than knowingly or intentionally) can still be a Class “C” misdemeanor, but that is a fine only offense.
Even if it appears that the State can prove the elements of criminal mischief, it may still be possible to get the case dismissed if a defendant is willing to pay restitution. Many criminal mischief cases happen in the context of dating relationships where tempers flare and people make bad decisions motivated by strong emotions. Many prosecutors are sympathetic to these situations, particularly where a defendant has no prior criminal history. In the Houston area, it is often possible for a criminal defense attorney to negotiate a dismissal through a pre-trial intervention or an informal agreement that the case will be dismissed if restitution is paid.
The goal in a criminal mischief case should be to get the case dismissed, and an effective attorney should have a clear strategy to get this done. Although jail time is often theoretically possible, for most people charged with criminal mischief, that is not a real possibility. The goal in most cases is to make sure that a defendant avoids a criminal mischief conviction. If you are charged with criminal mischief anywhere in the Houston area, attorney Jose Ceja would be happy to discuss your situation with you. Contact our office today to learn more.