Man being handcuffed

Every day dozens of people are charged with criminal mischief in the Greater Houston area. Criminal mischief is a very broad offense that can cover a wide range of potential behavior. It can also vary greatly in potential punishment based on the damages alleged. However, most criminal mischief cases are filed as misdemeanors and typically involve what would be considered vandalism (breaking windows, slashing tires, breaking doors, etc.). Even if a criminal mischief case is not filed as a felony, it is still critical to do everything possible to keep a criminal mischief case off of your record. This article addresses some frequently asked questions regarding criminal mischief cases in the Greater Houston area. 

What should you do if you have an open warrant for criminal mischief?

In some cases, if you are not arrested on the day of the alleged offense, you may have an open warrant for criminal mischief. This means that if you are stopped anywhere, you could be arrested and taken to the nearest jail and eventually, transported to jail in the county the charge was filed in. Getting arrested on an open warrant from criminal mischief out of county can mean that you could be stuck in jail for days or weeks waiting to be transferred the county the charge was filed in. 

If you have an open warrant for criminal mischief, it is better to address it right away. Your options may depend on whether you already have a bond amount on your warrant or not. If you do have a bond amount, you can typically pay the bond directly (usually at a county bail bond window) or work with a bondsman. Typically, the advantage of working with a bondsman is that you have to pay a lower amount of pocket, although you will not receive a refund when the case is resolved. If you post the entire amount yourself, then you receive all of your money back once your criminal mischief case is resolved and you are no longer on bond. 

If you have an open warrant for criminal mischief but with no dollar amount set, then usually you have to turn yourself in and wait to have a bond set by a magistrate judge. Depending on what county your case was filed, this can take anywhere from 2 hours to 36 hours or so. In the Houston area, some judges permit “walk-through” arrests in criminal mischief cases, which is usually a preferable option. A walk-through arrest involves going to court with a criminal mischief attorney when the judge is on the bench and asking the judge to set a bond amount. Then, rather than going into custody, the judge would allow you to leave the courtroom with a bail bondsman to post bond. Not every judge allows a walk-through arrests and the particulars of how to handle an open warrant for criminal mischief will vary from judge to judge and county to county, so you should always speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney regarding the best way to clear your open warrant. 

What are the penalties for criminal mischief?

The punishment for most criminal mischief charges is straightforward and is based on the amount of the damages allegedly caused by the defendant. Under Texas Penal Code 28.03, the level of offense is determined as follows:

  • less than $50 or it causes substantial inconvenience to others then it is a Class C misdemeanor ;
  • $50 or more but less than $500 then it is a Class B misdemeanor;
  • $500 or more but less than $1,500 then it is a Class A misdemeanor;
  • $1,500 or more but less than $20,000 then it is a state jail felony;
  • $20,000 or more but less than $100,000 then it is a felony of the third degree;
  • $100,000 or more but less than $200,000 then it is a felony of the second degree; or
  • $200,000 or more then it is a felony of the first degree.

There are also a number of other ways that criminal mischief can be charged that are not very common, which involve impairment or interference with public utilities, causing the death of livestock with a firearm or a few other behaviors. 

What bond conditions can I expect in a criminal mischief case?

In the Houston area, bond conditions in criminal mischief cases (at least where a case is filed as a misdemeanor) are not known to be terribly restrictive. Typically, a judge will order that you have no contact with the person or business that owns the property alleged to have been damaged. Sometimes judges will order that a defendant not consume drugs or alcohol. In all criminal cases, it is very important that you clearly understand and follow your bond conditions, or your bond could get revoked. 

It is important to remember that a criminal defense attorney can advocate on your behalf when the judge sets bond conditions, or later ask that they be modified, if they are impossible or impractical to comply with. 

How can I get a criminal mischief case dismissed?

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help maximize your chances of getting your criminal mischief case dropped. The first thing a criminal mischief defense attorney should do is obtain the evidence in order to try and challenge the facts of the case. 

Usually, defenses based on the facts go to showing that it wasn’t you who committed the act charged as criminal mischief, or that if it was you, that you lacked the necessary intent. If your criminal mischief lawyer can prove either of these things, then that could lead to your case getting dismissed, since the State would not be able to prove its case. Sometimes, it is also possible for a criminal defense attorney to challenge the alleged value of the damages. This is particularly important where challenging the value of the damages could result in the case being reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. In order to challenge the facts of a criminal mischief case, a criminal defense lawyer should be proactive and conduct his own investigation. 

Even if it appears that the allegation against a person can be proved, there are still ways to get a criminal case dismissed. Particularly where a defendant has little or no criminal history, sometimes it is possible to negotiate a dismissal of a criminal mischief case in exchange for the payment of restitution. In the Houston area, many District Attorney’s Offices are willing to offer a pretrial diversion in certain criminal mischief cases. A pre-trial diversion is essentially a contract with the District Attorney’s Office that a case will be dismissed if certain conditions, like community service and payment of restitution, are met. 

How long will a criminal mischief case take?

Criminal cases in the Houston area can be very slow. As noted above, your criminal defense lawyer will need to obtain the evidence in the case. Waiting on the evidence to be turned over in a criminal mischief case is generally the most time-consuming part of the case and can sometimes take 6 months or more. Once the evidence has been received, then your criminal defense lawyer should review it with you to discuss your options and what the best strategy for your case might be. All criminal mischief cases are resolved by either dismissal, trial or plea. Until the evidence is received, a criminal defense lawyer cannot tell you how your case will be resolved.

Do I need a lawyer for a criminal mischief case? 

In a criminal mischief case, having an experienced criminal defense attorney guide you through the process is indispensable. It would be a very bad idea to represent yourself in a criminal mischief case. Hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer not only maximizes your chance of a great result, it provides you with an advocate at the beginning of the case, when your bond conditions are set, and during the case when evidence has to be collected and evaluated. 

If you are charged with criminal mischief anywhere in the Greater Houston area, attorney Jose Ceja is an excellent choice. He regularly obtains dismissals for criminal mischief clients. He practices in Harris County, Fort Bend County, Galveston County, Montgomery County, Brazoria County, Chambers County, Liberty County, Waller County and Washington County. Call today to schedule a free consultation.