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. These charges, sometimes called “destruction of property” or “vandalism” charges, can result in jail time, heavy fines, and other criminal penalties. Being convicted will also cause you to have a criminal record, which can make it more difficult to find a job, take out a loan, earn professional licenses, and seize other opportunities in life.
If you or a loved one was charged with criminal mischief, vandalism, or destruction of property in New Jersey, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today. Our New Jersey criminal mischief lawyers are available for a free, confidential legal consultation on your case. Call us today at (609) 616-4956.
What Constitutes Criminal Mischief in NJ?
Criminal mischief is a property crime involving destruction of property, graffiti, or vandalism. The definition of this crime can be found in N.J.S.A. § 2C:17-3. This statute covers multiple types of destruction of property under different circumstances.
First of all, any destruction of property or vandalism charges can only be issued if the property was destroyed, damaged, or defaced without the owner’s permission. Helping someone with demo or renovation work in their house (with the proper permits) is perfectly legal, as is spray-painting a building with the owner’s consent or smashing objects in someone’s backyard with their permission. While some of these things may be “mischievous” or somewhat dangerous, they should not be illegal if the damage was caused with the owner’s permission or if you were destroying your own possessions.
Secondly, destruction of property is only a crime if the property was destroyed either on purpose, with knowledge, or recklessly. This means that accidental destruction of property – such as property damage caused during a car accident or another accident – should not constitute criminal mischief. However, if you destroy or deface property on purpose or with knowledge that you are causing damage, it could be charged as criminal mischief. Also, if you know that there is a substantial risk of damage, but you proceed anyway, you could be charged with criminal mischief for reckless damage to property.
Criminal mischief has separate subsections for damage caused in any of the following ways:
- Intentional damage to private property
- Damage caused with explosives or fire
- Destruction of rental property by a tenant retaliating against eviction
- Damage to a research facility
- Damage to airport property
- Damage to a grave or burial place
- Damage to utilities facilities (e.g., gas, power, or water supply)
Is Criminal Mischief a Felony (Indictable Crime) in NJ?
Most states classify offenses as “misdemeanors” or “felonies.” These names typically refer to lower-level criminal charges with under a year in jail for misdemeanors, as opposed to harsher charges with over a year in potential penalties for felonies. New Jersey uses different language, with “disorderly persons offenses” being roughly equivalent to other states’ misdemeanors and “indictable crimes” – or simply “crimes” – being roughly equivalent to other states’ felonies.
Some offenses can be charged as a disorderly persons offense or an indictable crime depending on the circumstances under which the act allegedly occurred. Criminal mischief is one of these charges, with the penalties and level of crime varying based on the amount of damage caused or the type of property that was damaged.
Indictable crimes are separated into four classes: first degree, second degree, third degree, and fourth degree. The penalties for these crimes vary, but in all cases, there are potential criminal fines and the risk of prison time over one year.
Criminal mischief is a disorderly persons offense (misdemeanor) in most cases where the property is $500 or less. In most other cases, criminal mischief is indeed an indictable crime (felony). However, criminal mischief is always charged as a fourth, third, or second degree crime – not a first degree crime.
What Are the Penalties for Criminal Mischief in NJ?
Criminal mischief is graded at different levels depending on the way the crime is committed. If the damage done was $500 or less, the crime is typically punished as a disorderly persons offense with the following penalties:
Disorderly Persons Offense
- Jail sentence up to 6 months
- Fines up to $1,000
Grading of Criminal Mischief Offenses in New Jersey
For the crime to be graded as an indicatable crime (felony), the damage must be higher than $500 or the property damage must have involved one of the types of property mentioned above (airport property, grave or burial property, utilities property, or research facility property). Alternatively, causing property damage or vandalism with an “act of graffiti” or with fire or explosives can also upgrade the offense to a crime.
Property damage of certain values is typically graded at the following level of crime:
- Damage over $500 but under $2,000 is a fourth degree crime
- Damage of $2,000 or more is a third degree crime
Second degree crimes are only charged for criminal mischief if the property damage recklessly causes someone else’s death or it causes a “substantial interruption” to utilities, public transportation, or public communications.
Penalties for Felony Criminal Mischief
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
- Fines up to $10,000
Third Degree Crimes
- Prison sentence of 3-5 years
- Fines up to $15,000
Second Degree Crimes
- Prison sentence of 5-10 years
- Fines up to $150,000
Other Penalties for Vandalism and Criminal Mischief
In most cases, the defendant will also be responsible for restitution. These payments are made to the victim to cover the costs of repair or replacement for any damaged property. These payments are in addition to any fines and court costs, which can increase the overall expense of committing this kind of offense.
In addition, you can also face a criminal record, which can affect your future opportunities. If you are a juvenile when you committed this offense, your record might be sealed as an adult – but until then, you could face juvenile probation and other serious penalties and interruptions to your life.
Get a Free Legal Consultation with Our Experienced New Jersey Criminal Mischief Defense Attorneys
If you or one of your family members has been arrested for criminal mischief in New Jersey, you need skilled, 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. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych’s New Jersey criminal defense and vandalism lawyers today at (609) 616-4956 to set up a free legal consultation.