Criminal mischief is a criminal offense frequently charged in the Greater Houston area and throughout Texas. Generally, criminal mischief involves an allegation that a person damaged or destroyed property, or in some instances, diverted or interfered with public utilities, such as telephone, water, or power service. Criminal mischief can range from being a misdemeanor to a felony depending on the value of the property alleged to have been damaged, or whether a person is accused of interfering with or diverting certain public utilities. Regardless of how your case is filed, the goal is to protect your record and your freedom if you are charged with criminal mischief. In order to maximize your chances of keeping a criminal mischief case off of your record, it is a good idea to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.
What are the elements of criminal mischief?
As noted, criminal mischief can be charged in several ways. A person can be charged with criminal mischief for intentionally or knowingly damaging or destroying the property of another, tampering with the property of another resulting in financial loss, engaging in graffiti on the property of another, or impairing or diverting public utilities such as telephone, water, power or gas.
Most commonly, criminal mischief is charged after a person is alleged to have damaged the property of another. In the Houston area, most of these cases involve damage to vehicles, windows, doors, or surveillance systems but damage to any object can form the basis of a criminal mischief charge.
The level of offense for criminal mischief is based on the amount of loss alleged and is as follows:
- Less than $100 is a Class C misdemeanor
- $100-$750 is a Class B misdemeanor
- $750-$2500 is a Class A misdemeanor
- $2500-$30,000 is a State Jail Felony
- $30,000-$150,000 is a Third-Degree Felony
- $150,000-$300,000 is a Second-Degree Felony
- $300,000 or more is a First-Degree Felony
As noted above, criminal mischief can also be charged with diverting or interfering with public utilities. Although this type of crime is not frequently charged in the Houston area, if it is alleged, the offense may not be subject to the above ranges and may be treated more seriously. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand the less commonly charged forms of criminal mischief.
The goal of a criminal mischief case should be to get the charge dismissed and your records expunged. In order to evaluate your case and create the best defense for your case, your criminal defense attorney will first need to obtain all of the evidence. In most criminal defense cases, this will include the offense report, videos (such as body cameras and witness statements), photographs and documents estimating the value of the loss alleged.
As in many criminal cases, the best defense will depend on the facts of your case. Sometimes it is possible to argue that the State cannot prove the identity of the person alleged to have committed criminal mischief. If there is no video of the incident and no persuasive statements from witnesses (including the defendant), it may be difficult for the police to prove a case.
It is also sometimes possible to argue that although the identity has been established, there was no intent to commit the crime. As noted above, one of the elements that the State of Texas must prove is that the offense was committed “knowingly or intentionally” so if the act alleged was an accident, a person cannot be convicted. There are other less frequently used defenses such as necessity (that the act alleged needed to be done to prevent worse harm). In many cases, it may also be a good idea for a criminal defense attorney to contest the value of the damages alleged. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can review all of the available defenses in a criminal mischief case with you.
Even if the State of Texas can prove a person is guilty of criminal mischief, often an experienced criminal defense lawyer can negotiate a dismissal of the case in exchange for payment of the damages to the complaining witness (known as restitution). Also, if the person accused has little or no criminal history, the State of Texas may consider allowing the person to complete a pre-trial diversion program, which is essentially a contract with the District Attorney’s Office stating that a case will be dismissed if certain conditions are met. In the Houston area, it is common to obtain dismissals in criminal mischief cases by either paying restitution or completing a pre-trial diversion contract.
As noted above, if your case is dismissed, you will typically be eligible to have the case expunged, which is the best result in a criminal case, since it leads to the destruction of all records relating to the arrest. After the expunction of a criminal mischief case, a person is even allowed to deny the existence of the arrest under Texas law in most cases.
If your case is not dismissed, you may have to choose between a trial and a plea agreement. In this situation, your criminal defense attorney should go over the evidence with you to allow you to make an informed decision. Winning a trial would allow you to get your records expunged, but you cannot obtain an expunction if you are placed on any type of probation. If you have the option of regular probation or deferred adjudication probation, one advantage of deferred adjudication is that you may be eligible to have your records sealed if you successfully complete it.
Attorney Jose Ceja regularly obtains excellent results for clients throughout the Greater Houston area, including people charged with criminal mischief. If you are charged with criminal mischief, Mr. Ceja is happy to offer you a free consultation to discuss your situation in more detail.