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Criminal Mischief and Vandalism

Criminal mischief and vandalism are both crimes that deal with the destruction of property. Often, criminal mischief and vandalism are charged to punish people who “tag” buildings and objects with graffiti. Criminal mischief is also charged in any case of property destruction, which could be charged along with theft, vehicle crimes, violent crimes, trespassing/breaking and entering, or by itself.

If you or your child has been charged with any of these crimes, the punishments can be severe and have long lasting effects.

Do not risk losing freedom and carrying the burden of a criminal record; talk to an aggressive criminal mischief and vandalism defense attorney who can fight the government’s case and help reduce your sentence or beat the charges. Lauren Wimmer, attorney at law can fight for you in your case to reduce not only the charges you face but the associated consequences.

Clearing the Confusion About Criminal Mischief and Vandalism

“Criminal mischief” may sound like something that teens do the night before Halloween, but it is actually a relatively serious criminal charge. Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 3304, criminal mischief is the crime of damaging someone’s property. There are six different types of property destruction that count as criminal mischief in Pennsylvania:

  1. Intentionally damaging someone else’s property with fire, explosives, or other dangerous activities;
  2. Tampering with someone else’s property in a way that risks injury or property damage;
  3. Causing property damage by lying or threatening someone;
  4. Marking or damaging public or private property with graffiti from a spray-can or marker;
  5. Intentionally damaging someone else’s property; or
  6. Marking or damaging public or private property with a paintball gun or paintball paint.

The following are common examples of each of these six crimes:

  1. Setting someone’s property (car, clothes, personal items, etc.) on fire
  2. Cutting someone’s car brakes or pouring other liquids into their gas tank
  3. Forcing someone to smash their phone under threat of violence
  4. Marking a storefront with graffiti
  5. Smashing someone’s car windows or slashing their tires
  6. Firing a paintball gun at someone’s car or house

Obviously, some of these are less common or harder to imagine occurring, but many of them, such as graffiti and intentional damage, happen all the time.

Vandalism, in the general sense, is covered by § 3304(a)(4), discussed above. PA’s laws on “vandalism,” are more focused, and refer to “institutional vandalism” under 18 Pa.C.S. § 3307, “agricultural vandalism” under § 3309 and “railroad vandalism” under § 3504(a)(iii).

Institutional vandalism is the crime of damaging or defacing any of the following:

  1. A church, synagogue, or other facility for worship or other religious purposes;
  2. A cemetery or other memorialization facility;
  3. A school, educational building, community center, municipal building, courthouse, or juvenile detention center;
  4. The property surrounding any of the above places; or
  5. Personal property inside any of above places.

The Penalties for Criminal Mischief and Vandalism in Pennsylvania

The punishments for criminal mischief under § 3304 scale based on the value of the damaged property, and a few other factors. The punishments for criminal mischief break down as follows:

  • Third degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and fines up to $2,000 for:
    • » Damage over $500, or
    • » Graffiti damage over $150.
  • Second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison and fines up to $5,000 for damage over $1,000.
  • Third degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and fines up to $15,000 for:
    • » Damage of over $5,000; or
    • » Damage that causes a “substantial” interruption in public communications, transportation, water, gas, power, or public services.
  • Any other damage means a summary offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines up to $300.

This means that even minor things like graffiti damage under $150 could still result in jail time, fines, and a criminal record.

The punishments for institutional vandalism start at a higher level. Institutional vandalism is, at the lowest level, a misdemeanor of the second degree. For damage over $5,000 or any act of “desecration,” whether it be of a grave, a religious item, or a religious place, is automatically a felony of the third degree. That means the potential punishment is up to seven years in prison with fines up to $15,000. Any other institutional vandalism, meaning non-desecration acts with under $5,000 damage, are second degree misdemeanors. They’re punished with up to two years in prison and fines up to $15,000.

Any destruction of property can also trigger a requirement to pay “restitution” to the victim. This means reimbursing the victim for the value of the damage or repairs. In many cases, this value is something your attorney can argue over, possibly reducing your overall costs.

If you were arrested for criminal mischief and vandalism involving a criminal defense attorney as early in the process as possible means more time to challenge the events surrounding an arrest, challenge evidence, and help to get charges dropped, fines reduced and avoid potential jail time.  Contact Wimmer Criminal Defense or call 215-712-1212 for a free consultation.

If You’ve Been Arrested for Criminal Mischief of Vandalism

If you or your child was arrested, you should immediately contact an experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney. For a free consultation with criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer, call today.