“Criminal mischief” is the name of New Jersey’s vandalism and destruction of property crime.  Charges for criminal mischief can be quite severe depending on the value of the property that was defaced or destroyed.  These charges are common among first-time offenders, but criminal mischief can also be charged as part of a fight or disorderly conduct issue if, for instance, someone’s glasses or cell phone was broken.  In many cases, these charges can be dropped for various reason.  Our Atlantic City criminal mischief defense lawyers explain how and when charges can be dropped for criminal mischief in New Jersey.

How Can You Get Criminal Mischief Charges Dropped in New Jersey?

In most cases, criminal charges can be dropped at any time.  When charges are “dropped,” as opposed to “dismissed,” it means that the prosecutor decided to stop pursuing the charges.  Usually, the ability to drop charges is part of “prosecutorial discretion,” the prosecutor’s inherent right to decline prosecution.

Many DA’s offices and prosecutor’s offices have policies handed down from the head of the department that limit when the individual prosecutor on a case can drop charges.  In most counties, the prosecutors are somewhat tough on crime, and charges will not be dropped simply because you’re a first-time offender or because you have no prior history.  Instead, prosecutors might drop the charges as part of a plea agreement, allowing you to pay a fine, perform community service, or attend crime prevention classes in exchange for dropping the charges against you.

To try to get charges dropped, you will usually have to talk to the prosecutor and try to negotiate a deal.  Your Atlantic City criminal defense lawyer can do this for you and fight to get charges dropped instead of leaving you with a criminal record.

Can Destruction of Property Charges Be Dismissed in NJ?

When charges are “dismissed” instead of dropped, it means that the judge ended the case, not the prosecutors.  The judge has the power to dismiss any case that does not satisfy the legal definition of the crime.  For criminal mischief charges, there is more than one way that the prosecutor could fail to prove that you violated the law, allowing a judge to dismiss the charges.

In any criminal case, the allegations must fit the definition of the crime.  If the prosecutor alleges that you committed acts that do not actually meet the legal definition of criminal mischief, the judge should dismiss the charges against you.  Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:17-3, criminal mischief is only illegal if you destroyed someone else’s property intentionally or recklessly.  Destruction of property that you technically own would not be criminal mischief, and neither would accidental or negligent destruction of property (unless it was caused by use of explosives).  If the government can’t prove that you intentionally or recklessly destroyed another person’s property, the judge should dismiss the charges.

The second way that the charges could be dismissed by a judge is if the prosecution doesn’t meet their burden of proof.  In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.  If it is obvious that the information they presented just doesn’t prove the charges, the judge can dismiss the case as a matter of law without even giving the jury a chance to decide the case.  At early stages, such as the preliminary hearing, the burden the government must meet is that they have “probable cause” to charge you with the offense.  At this stage, the burden is lower, but a judge can still dismiss the case if the government can’t meet the burden.

Can Charges Be Reduced for Criminal Mischief in NJ?

In many criminal cases, charges can be reduced to a lesser offense to reduce the penalties the defendant faces.  This can often happen as part of a plea agreement where the prosecutors reduce the charges in exchange for a guilty plea or other negotiated outcomes.  In these cases, charges could be reduced, such as dropping aggravated assault charges down to simple assault charges or reducing robbery charges to theft charges.

In the case of criminal mischief, there are many forms of criminal mischief with varying penalties.  For instance, the general destruction of property charge is based on the value of the destroyed or defaced property, with loss of under $500 being graded as a low-level disorderly persons offense.  However, if the destruction of property is committed at a graveyard or involves the destruction of a road sign, the charges could be increased to a third degree crime, even if you did less than $500 worth of damage.  Through a plea deal, prosecutors may agree to ignore the fact that the destruction involved a graveyard or road sign, charging you with the disorderly persons offense instead of the third degree crime.

In many cases, prosecutors will be restrained by the language of the statute.  For instance, prosecutors usually cannot agree to sentence the crime as a disorderly persons offense if the property damage was worth more than $500 (usually graded as a fourth degree crime or higher).  This happens because the sentencing aspect is defined by statute and left to the judge to decide, so reducing the charges is simply out of the prosecutor’s hands.  Other times, office policy might stop prosecutors from reducing they would like to reduce.

Call Our Atlantic City Criminal Mischief Lawyers for a Free Consultation

If you or a loved one was accused of destruction of property, vandalism, graffiti crimes, or criminal mischief, our attorneys may be able to help.  The Law Offices of John J. Zarych’s Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers represent the accused and work to get charges dropped, dismissed, and reduced.  For a free legal consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (609) 616-4956.