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Criminal Mischief: The Texas Crime

Criminal Mischief is a crime against property, and includes such activities as vandalism, graffiti, or tampering with a utility service. A charge for Criminal Mischief typically occurs in a situation where the property of someone else gets damaged or tampered with in some way, and the property owner notifies the police. If you are with another individual who actually committed the offense, that uninvolved person may be charged with the crime as well. You can also be charged with this crime for “skimming” from utility, such as diverting a cable line to your home, bypassing a water meter, or diverting water away from an irrigation ditch for your own use.

Have you been charged with Criminal Mischief? Call Texas criminal defense lawyer Paul Saputo at (888) 239-9305.

Criminal Mischief can be very difficult to understand, especially if you’re unsure whether or not actions you or someone you know would qualify under the statute. Being prosecuted for a charge of Criminal Mischief can be a life-altering event, and we are serious about representing you and obtaining the best result for you and your life. Learn more about the offense of Criminal Mischief below, or if you have been arrested for Criminal Mischief, please contact us online or by phone at (888) 239-9305 for a free consultation over the phone or to schedule a meeting in our Dallas office.

How can I be charged with Criminal Mischief?

The Texas offense of Criminal Mischief is described in Section 28.03 of the Texas Penal Code. There are many different factors that adjust the level of the crime. The offense is a kind of catch-all that covers a wide range of actions by using deliberately broad language so that it can be applied to many different circumstances. The basic definition of the offense is that someone is guilty of Criminal Mischief when:

(1) he intentionally or knowingly damages or destroys the tangible property of the owner;

(2) he intentionally or knowingly tampers with the tangible property of the owner and causes pecuniary loss or substantial inconvenience to the owner or a third person; or

(3) he intentionally or knowingly makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings, on the tangible property of the owner.

In general, this means that any sort of situation where you might do something that negatively affects the property of someone else without their permission, you might be in a position to be charged with the offense.

What is the range of punishment for Criminal Mischief?

Because Criminal Mischief is a very broad offense, it has been written so that the punishments can be as low as a Class C Misdemeanor all the way up to a First Degree Felony. In general, any sort of damage or tampering of property that costs less than $1,500 in damages is a Misdemeanor. Damage that exceeds $1,500 fall in the Felony range.

However, there are some specific circumstances that make a low-cost act a felony. For example, even if the cost of damage is less than $1,500, it can still be a felony offense if the property is a place of worship, or a fence that pens in livestock animals, or if an explosive device or firearm is used to damage the property. If the tampering or damage causes some sort of public service, like electricity, telephone systems, or water services, to be impaired even partially, the punishment level can be raised into the felony range, even if the actual cost of the damage is less than $1,500. Learn more about the range of punishments for Texas crimes

I didn’t intend to damage the property, am I still in trouble?

According to the Texas Penal Code and courts in Texas and the DFW area, the specific requirement for this crime is knowingly or intentionally. That means if you either were aware of the consequences of your actions, or it was your specific goal to cause the damage, then you acted with knowledge or intent. If you had no knowledge of what you were doing or had no intention of doing the damage/tampering with the property (for example if you were pushed and fell through a wooden fence or tripped over a can of paint causing it to spill onto someones porch), then you do not meet that requirement. Proving what you knew or intended can be critical to the overall success of your case.

What does tangible property mean?

Tangible property means anything that you can physically touch or interact with. For example, a sign is a physical object, and would be considered tangible property. The words on the sign, specifically the ideas behind them, are not physical. If you were to post your own sign with the same words, but with a giant X through them, you’re not tampering with the physical nature of the property, just the idea behind it. Ideas, thoughts, or slogans are not physical objects and are not covered under this statute.

What does it mean to tamper with something?

To “tamper” with something can be a very broad definition. At its simplest definition, it means to alter something. This can either be by adding something (like spraying paint onto a wall), taking something away (for example, pulling out a fence post from a farm pen), or changing something without taking away or adding to it (for example, breaking a water meter).

Common examples of tampering might include “getting free cable” by running an unauthorized cord to a cable box, or cutting a hole through a fence, or even posting a political poster on a wall without permission. The range of situations that might fall under this definition can be far ranging, and if you’re unsure whether or not your actions qualify, it’s important that you speak with an attorney who can counsel you.

If multiple pieces of property were tampered with or damaged, is that one offense or multiple offenses?

Under Texas law, if multiple pieces of property were damaged or tampered with in a continuous method (the law calls this a continuing course of conduct), each piece of property damage or cost can be added together. That means that if three pieces of property were damaged separately but by the same person or people with the same goal or general patter of activity, the cost can be added together for the purpose of determining the punishment level. So if three pieces of property were each damaged for $600, instead of three charges at Class A Misdemeanors, it could be one charge as a State Felony at $1,800.

As a criminal lawyer, I work on your behalf to conduct an investigation and examine the evidence to determine if the arrest was illegal or if there is insufficient evidence to support a conviction. In addition, there is a possibility that the state’s attorneys might agree to a dismissal under certain terms. If we are unable to get your case dismissed, then we may have to go to trial if you do not want the conviction on your record. If the state’s attorneys are not willing to dismiss the case, then the only way to keep the conviction off your record entirely is through a Not Guilty verdict. We provide custom tailored defense strategies for our clients, and will work with you to find the best strategy to get you the best possible outcome.

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