When Can You Be Charged with Criminal Mischief Under N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3?

The word “mischief” implies light-hearted fun and pranks, but a criminal mischief charge under N.J.S.A. § 2C:17-3 is no laughing matter.  On the contrary, these charges can result in the imposition of jail time, hefty fines, and other penalties.  Being convicted will also cause you to have a criminal record, which can make it substantially more difficult to find a job, own a gun, take out a loan, earn professional licenses, and seize other opportunities in life.

Get a Free Legal Consultation with Our Experienced New Jersey Defense Attorneys

The allegations against you are serious.  If you or one of your family members has been arrested for criminal mischief in New Jersey, you need skilled and aggressive legal representation.  The criminal attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych have over 40 years of combined experience representing defendants in the Atlantic City area, and have obtained favorable outcomes for numerous defendants who were facing extremely serious accusations.  Our legal team is dedicated to protecting your Constitutional rights.

Don’t wait until it’s already too late to start talking about your defense options with an experienced Atlantic City criminal mischief lawyer.  Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 625-3006 to set up a free and completely confidential legal consultation today.

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Reasons You Can Be Arrested for Criminal Mischief in Atlantic City

Criminal mischief, a property crime involving property destruction, graffiti, or vandalism, is defined under N.J.S.A. § 2C:17-3.  Under this statute, a person can be charged with criminal mischief when, allegedly, he or she:

  • Deliberately damages another person’s property.
  • Recklessly or negligently damages another person’s property by means of fire, explosive devices, or other dangerous acts.
    • Recklessness means disregarding an unjustifiable risk, while negligence describes a failure to exercise due care to prevent a foreseeable and avoidable accident.
  • Deliberately or recklessly tampers with another person’s property “so as to endanger [a] person or property.”

Criminal mischief can also be charged when a tenant or renter damages or destroys an apartment or other rental property as retaliation for being evicted.

Criminal mischief may be charged alongside other criminal offenses, such as:

  • Aggravated Assault
  • Criminal Trespass
  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Public Intoxication
  • Simple Assault

Is Criminal Mischief an Indictable Crime (Felony) or DP Offense (Misdemeanor)?

Most states classify offenses as misdemeanors or felonies.  New Jersey uses different language.  In New Jersey, misdemeanors are roughly equivalent to “disorderly persons offenses,” or “DP offenses,” while felonies are called “indictable crimes” or simply “crimes.”

Some offenses can be charged as a disorderly persons offense or as an indictable crime, depending on the circumstances under which the act allegedly occurred.  Criminal mischief is often charged as an indictable crime (felony), but the penalties can range greatly depending on how the charge is classified.

Indictable crimes are separated into four classes: first degree, second degree, third degree, and fourth degree.  Criminal mischief is charged as a crime of the fourth degree when the act:

  • Causes a financial loss greater than $500, but less than $2,000.
  • Involves the removal, tampering with, or damaging of traffic lights, traffic signs, or airport equipment.
  • Is intentional and involves damaging “any pipes or mains for conducting gas, oil or water,” or any “telephone, telecommunications, cable television or telegraph wires, lines [or] cable” devices.

It is charged as a crime of the third degree, which is more serious, when the defendant:

  • Causes a financial loss greater than $2,000.
  • “[D]amages, defaces, eradicates, alters, receives, releases or causes the loss of any research property used by [a] research facility, or otherwise causes physical disruption to the functioning of the research facility.”
  • “[T]ampers with a grave, crypt, mausoleum or other site where human remains are stored or interred, with the purpose to desecrate, destroy or steal such human remains or any part thereof.”
  • Deliberately “causes a substantial interruption or impairment of public communication, transportation, supply of water, oil, gas or power, or other public service.”
  • Causes physical injury by acting recklessly removing, destroying, or tampering with traffic equipment, including airport equipment.

It is charged as a crime of the second degree when the defendant recklessly kills another person by taking the actions described above.

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New Jersey Penalties for Vandalism, Graffiti, and Criminal Mischief: Fines and Prison

The penalties for second, third, and fourth degree indictable offenses in New Jersey may include the following:

  • Fourth Degree Crimes
    • Prison Sentence – Up to 18 months
    • Fine – Up to $10,000
  • Third Degree Crimes
    • Prison Sentence – Up to 5 years
    • Fine – Up to $15,000
  • Second Degree Crimes
    • Prison Sentence – Up to 10 years
    • Fine – Up to $150,000

Even after the fines have been paid and the sentence has been completed, the person will continue to be burdened with a felony record, which can make it extremely difficult to find work.  Despite anti-discrimination laws, many employers find excuses to avoid hiring convicted felons.  Depending on your line of work, a conviction could permanently end your career.

Criminal mischief is a disorderly persons offense, similar to a misdemeanor, when the resulting property damage caused a financial loss of $500 or less.  The penalties for a DP offense include a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.

The penalties for a criminal mischief conviction in New Jersey are severe.  If you or one of your family members was arrested for criminal mischief at a casino in Atlantic City, or at other locations in the Atlantic County or Cape May County area, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 625-3006 immediately for a free legal consultation.