Vandalism, destruction of property, criminal mischief – whatever you call the crime of defacing or destroying the property of another, it can carry serious penalties. This crime is often charged as a juvenile offense for teens and is a common crime among young adults. In some cases, the charges may be dropped or reduced with the help of a criminal defense attorney, but when vandalism or graffiti are tied to other offenses, the charges could carry serious penalties.
If you or your child was charged with criminal mischief, a vandalism crime, or another crime involving destruction of property, it is important to talk to a criminal defense attorney about your case. For a free consultation with an Atlantic City vandalism and criminal mischief defense lawyer, contact The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today at (609) 625-3006.
Types of Vandalism Crimes in New Jersey
New Jersey’s standard destruction of property crime is called “criminal mischief.” This crime covers intentional destruction of someone else’s property in a dangerous or “criminal” way. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:17-3, criminal mischief can be committed two different ways:
- By using fire, explosives, etc. to destroy someone else’s property, or
- By tampering with property in a way that endangers a person or property (which includes destroying renal property as retaliation for eviction).
Some examples of criminal mischief could include putting firecrackers in a neighbor’s mailbox or slashing the tires on someone’s car. However, there are dozens of acts that fit under this statute, including things like defacing a cemetery, some instances of graffiti, tampering with signs or utilities, and other offenses.
There is a specific offense for destroying or tampering with a traffic sign or device. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:17-3.1, it is illegal to remove, damage, or tamper with any traffic control devices, including speed limit signs, stop signs, yield signs, or traffic lights.
It is also illegal to vandalize railroad property. N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-14.1 includes defacing, obstructing, damaging, removing, or otherwise tampering with any railroad property, including:
- Railroad crossing signs,
- Alarms, bells, or other auditory signals,
- Visual signals like lights or other signs,
- Safety gates, or
- Any other railroad crossing or safety devices.
It is also illegal under this act to graffiti any railroad property, like tracks, platforms, etc.
New Jersey also has a separate statute for defacing property or committing an “act of graffiti,” in a threatening way. N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-11 covers any damaging or defacing of property – with or without graffiti – if the property is used for any of these purposes:
- Burial, or
- Assembly for a 1st Amendment purpose (e.g. free speech).
This is only a crime, however, if the defacing involves placing symbols, objects, etc. that are threatening. This would include things like placing a burning cross in someone’s yard or drawing a swastika on a religious building.
Penalties for Vandalism and Criminal Mischief
There are multiple levels of crime in New Jersey, each of which carries different penalties. Many of the vandalism crimes discussed above range from disorderly persons offenses at the lowest to second degree crimes. Second degree crimes are the second most severe offenses in New Jersey, and are on par with very serious theft offenses, some violent crimes, sex crimes, and other high-level offenses.
Overall, New Jersey crimes carry the following penalties for the various levels of crime:
- Second degree crimes involve 5-10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000.
- Third degree crimes involve 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
- Fourth degree crimes involve up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- Disorderly persons offenses involve up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,000.
Clearly, disorderly persons offenses are a much lower-level offense, but these offenses are still serious. The judge can order jail time and substantial fines, which can interfere with your job, school, or family life, and could damage your future opportunities.
More serious offenses have statutory minimums, which means spending at least some time in prison is likely. If you committed a third or second degree crime, it is vital to talk to an attorney to fight to have your charges and penalties reduced.
Many vandalism and criminal mischief offenses also have additional punishments. Especially with any instance of graffiti, you may be required to pay for the cost of removing the graffiti and restoring the property. In some cases, judges also order community service as punishment. If you are charged with a juvenile offense in Atlantic City, some of these restitution penalties may fall to your parents to pay if you cannot afford the repairs.
Atlantic City Vandalism and Criminal Mischief Defense Lawyers Available for Free Consultations
If you or a loved one was charged with a vandalism, destruction of property, or criminal mischief crime in South Jersey, talk to a criminal defense attorney today. The Atlantic City vandalism and criminal mischief defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych offer free consultations on new criminal cases. To talk with our lawyers and schedule your free consultation, contact our law offices today at (609) 625-3006.