What is Criminal Mischief?


What is criminal mischief? Learn more about criminal mischief from the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney today. Book an appointment with us now.

Criminal Mischief Is a Crime


Criminal mischief, also called malicious mischief, is a crime California takes seriously. There could be severe consequences if you or your loved one has been accused of criminal mischief like vandalism. Even if the actions were meant to be harmless, you could be charged with committing a criminal offense.

Apart from the hefty fines, a conviction can ruin your record and even send you to jail for up to one year. To avoid criminal penalties or reduce the charges, many seek the assistance of a criminal defense attorney from a reputable law firm. Hiring a skilled defense lawyer from the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney may be the right option if you were charged with criminal mischief.


Criminal Mischief and Vandalism


The California Penal Code Section 594 states that a person is guilty of vandalism if they maliciously deface with graffiti or other inscribed material, damage, or destroy another person’s property. In legal terms, “malicious” means there is criminal intent. Malice or intent can be shown through the person’s overt acts. These acts can occur before, during, and after committing the alleged mischief.

The defaced, damaged, or destroyed property may be someone’s personal property or real estate.


Examples of Criminal Mischief

Criminal mischief covers a number of other acts or crimes. Some common examples of criminal mischief include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Defacing public, government, or private property

  • Tagging or spray painting on public, government, or private property

  • Throwing rocks at cars or trains

  • Egging houses

  • Putting items on the train tracks that could lead to a crash

  • Putting items on the road could lead to a crash

Criminal Mischief Charges


Criminal mischief is a “wobbler” crime, which means it can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. It is up to the prosecutor to choose between charging you with a felony and a misdemeanor.

Generally, it is a felony when the amount of damage to public or private property is $400 or more or if the accused has prior convictions of vandalism. On the other hand, if the value of the damaged property is less than $400, it is a misdemeanor criminal mischief.

To hold a person liable for criminal mischief, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  1. The person arrested defaced, damaged, or destroyed a property
  2. The property belongs to another person
  3. The person acted with criminal intent

Absent any of these elements, a criminal mischief case will not succeed. The prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that all the elements are present.

Penalties for Criminal Mischief in California


The penalties for criminal mischief are based on the value of the damaged property. The penalties under the California Penal Code are according to the amount of vandalism damage. They include up to one year in the county jail and/or the following fines:

  1. $400 or more: up to $10,000 in fines
  2. $10,000 or more: up to $50,000 in fines
  3. $400 or less: up to $1,000 in fines

Furthermore, the person convicted may also be required to undergo counseling or participate in community service.

If the defendant is a repeat offender of vandalism, the penalty is jail time of up to a year, up to $5,000 in fines, or both. This penalty applies when the amount of damage is less than $400.

The judge may also order the guilty person to remove graffiti and clean or repair damaged property. You may need to pay restitution for the value of the destroyed property. Your defense lawyer can petition the court to lower the charge or enter a plea agreement in criminal mischief felony cases.


Criminal Mischief Penalties for Minors

A minor may also be charged with criminal mischief and ordered to pay a fine. If a minor cannot afford to pay, the minor’s parent or guardian shall be held liable to pay the fine. The fine may be waived or reduced upon showing a reasonable ground.

The judge may also order the minor’s parent or guardian to keep the person’s property graffiti-free for up to a year.

What to Do If You’re Arrested for Criminal Mischief?


If you or your loved one was arrested for criminal mischief, it is important to stay calm. You don’t want the moment’s stress to cause you to say or act impulsively.

Do not hide or destroy the damaged property. Sometimes people attempt to get rid of the evidence. This is a mistake. If you have supporting evidence that will help deny the charges, however, keep them in a secure place.

Cooperate with law enforcement, but refrain from volunteering any information. Instead, call your trusted criminal lawyer. Then avoid saying anything to the arresting officer until your lawyer is with you.


Common Defenses to Criminal Mischief Charges


If you are charged with or arrested for vandalism, don’t lose hope. There are several common defenses your criminal defense attorney can use. They may prove your innocence or might shed enough doubt on your guilt to get your charges reduced.

Common defenses include the following:

  • Lack of intent to deface or destroy

  • Mistaken identity (it wasn’t you)

  • The damage was a result of your self-defense

  • The property is someone else’s property and not the victim’s

  • Inadmissible or illegally obtained evidence

  • The damage was due to the negligence of the victim

  • You’ve already paid for the damage

  • You were illegally arrested

  • You had a legitimate reason to destroy the property

With all the serious consequences of criminal mischief, you want an experienced defense attorney who will not hesitate to fight back. This is all the more true if you believe you are innocent or if any of the elements of criminal mischief are lacking.

How Can the Law Offices of Christopher Chaney Help You?


Whether you are charged with a felony or a misdemeanor criminal mischief, you have every right to fight for your freedom. Conviction of any crime carries penalties and consequences that could affect your personal, professional, and family life. A criminal defense attorney from the California-based Law Offices of Christopher Chaney can help you fight your criminal charges.

For questions regarding criminal mischief or if you need legal representation, contact us. We have the skill and experience to find a strategic defense for your case. Call today for a no-obligation initial consultation!

Contact Our Firm