When the word ‘mischief’ is used, it often generates images of non-threatening situations, involving rambunctious children going where they were told not to go. However, in Texas criminal mischief is considered a serious property crime that can lead to substantial penalties such as the creation of a permanent criminal record and sometimes, even time in prison. If you or someone you care about has been accused of tampering with or damaging the property of someone else, it is important to have an experienced Houston criminal mischief attorney to help provide a strong defense.
Criminal Mischief Defined
According to Section 28.03 of the Texas Penal Code, the crime of criminal mischief occurs when a person intentionally or knowingly performs one of the following three actions without the consent of the owner:
Damages or destroys the tangible property of the owner;
Tampers with the tangible property of the owner and causes financial loss or substantial inconvenience to the owner or a third person; or
Makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings on the tangible property of the owner.
Nearly any action taken against the tangible property of someone else can fall into one of the three categories for criminal mischief. The key phrases in the criminal mischief law relate to the consent of the owner and the requirement that the action must be done knowingly or intentionally. If it is possible to prove that the damage was not caused knowingly or that the person had the consent of the owner then the actions would not be considered criminal mischief under the Texas Penal Code.
Charges are Based on the Amount and Type of Damage
The Texas Penal Code determines the severity of a criminal mischief charge based on the type of damage that was caused and the amount of loss to the property owner. The potential charges for criminal mischief begin as a Class C misdemeanor but can go all the way to a first-degree felony in special circumstances. The criminal mischief law sets out specific guidelines for each level of the offense.
Misdemeanor Criminal Mischief Charges
The lowest level of criminal mischief is a Class C misdemeanor when an action causes a loss of less than $100 or a substantial inconvenience to others. A Class C misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of up to $500. The charge is elevated to a Class B misdemeanor if the amount of loss caused is $100 or more, but less than $750. Class B misdemeanors carry potential penalties of up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. If an action causes a loss of at least $750 but less than $2,500 or impairs the public water supply it would then be considered a Class A misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
Felony Criminal Mischief Charges
If an action causes a loss of at least $2,500 but less than $30,000 the criminal mischief offense would be considered a state jail felony, which carries a term in state jail of at least 180 days and up to two years along with a potential fine of $10,000. There are also two special circumstances where the loss caused is less than $2,500 but the offense is still treated as a state jail felony. They are:
- If the property damaged is a habitation and the damage is done by a firearm or explosives.
- If the property damaged was a fence used for the containment of livestock or game animals.
Once the loss caused by an action exceeds $30,000 the degree of the criminal mischief felony is elevated to a level that includes potential imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice along with a possible fine of up to $10,000.
The elevated felony degree levels and potential prison sentences are:
- Third Degree Felony- If the loss is $30,000 or more but less than $150,000. Punishable by not less than two years and up to 10 years in prison.
- Second Degree Felony- If the loss is $150,000 or more but less than $300,000. Punishable by not less than two years and up to 20 years in prison.
- First Degree Felony- If the loss is $300,000 or more. Punishable by not less than five years and up to 99 years or life in prison.
Tampering with Public Utilities
A special circumstance exists in the Texas Penal Code for criminal mischief that relates to tampering with public utilities. Simply, it is considered a felony if someone impairs or diverts any public communications, public gas supply, or public power supply. The law goes on to establish a presumption that a recipient of services has knowingly tampered with the tangible property if it is found that a metering device for the service has been bypassed or prevented from making accurate readings. This means that the owner of any home with a tampered gas or electric meter could face a felony criminal mischief charge even if they did not know anything was wrong with the meter.
How a Houston Criminal Mischief Attorney Can Help
Criminal mischief is a crime where you could end up facing charges that are possibly much more severe than you anticipated. Since criminal mischief charges depend in large part on the amount of loss created, often simple actions that spiral out of control can end up leading to a felony offense with potential prison time. A knowledgeable Houston criminal mischief lawyer can provide you a strong defense and work to keep one bad decision from drastically changing the rest of your life.
Attorney Ned Barnett is a criminal defense attorney with nearly 30 years of legal experience in the Houston area. He has spent more than 20 years as a defense attorney, with experience that also includes time as a federal and state prosecutor. Attorney Barnett can use his knowledge from both sides of the criminal justice system to help get you the best result possible.