Criminal mischief is one of the main destruction of property crimes in New Jersey. People can face criminal mischief charges for actions like vandalism, graffiti, or breaking someone else’s property during the commission of another crime. This offense carries somewhat harsh penalties, which can include jail time in any situation. The penalties are often different if the offense is charged as a juvenile offense, which is important to understand if you were charged with criminal mischief while you were under 18. Our Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain the penalties for criminal mischief in New Jersey.

Definition of Criminal Mischief in New Jersey

Before looking at the penalties for this offense, we should look at the definition of the crime. Criminal mischief, also known as vandalism or destruction of property, has a simple definition in New Jersey. Criminal mischief is defined as either of the following acts:

  • Damaging another person’s property, either “[p]urposely or knowingly” by any means, or “recklessly or negligently” by using explosives
  • Tampering with someone else’s property in a way that could endanger the person or their property

This means that not only is the intentional destruction of property illegal but so is tampering with someone else’s property in a dangerous way. This covers any of the following examples of criminal mischief:

  • Smashing someone else’s cell phone
  • Hitting someone’s mailbox with a baseball bat
  • Putting other liquids into someone else’s gas tank
  • Keying someone’s car
  • Slashing someone’s tires
  • Tagging a building or other object with graffiti
  • Vandalizing a building or sign

Grading for Criminal Mischief and Vandalism Offenses in NJ

In New Jersey, criminal mischief charges can be graded at different levels of crime based on the destruction you cause, the items that were destroyed, or the manner in which the destruction took place. This is very similar to how theft crimes are graded in NJ.

In New Jersey, crimes are graded as either a “disorderly persons offense” if they are similar to a misdemeanor offense, or an “indictable crime” if they are similar to a felony. Disorderly persons offenses come with up to 6 months of jail time while all crimes carry the potential of over a year in prison. Crimes are graded at different degrees, with fourth being the lowest level.

Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:17-3, criminal mischief can be graded as a disorderly persons offense, a fourth degree crime, or a third degree crime.

Disorderly persons offense criminal mischief

Criminal mischief can be charged as a disorderly persons offense if the damage to property cost $500 or less. If another rule bumps up the penalties based on how the destruction occurred or what was destroyed, the penalties can still be increased even if the damage was less than $500.

Fourth degree criminal mischief

Criminal mischief is charged as a fourth degree crime any time the damage costs more than $500 but under $2,000. In addition, destruction of property related to airports, helipads, or the signals and signs used in these places is also a fourth degree crime. Lastly, damage to wires, pipes, cables, or other devices used for utilities (e.g., gas, power, water, phone, or television service) is also a fourth degree crime.

Third degree criminal mischief

If you cause $2,000 or more worth of damage, the crime will be charged as a third degree crime. Any damage to property at a research facility is also a third degree crime. If any of the property destruction that qualifies for a fourth degree crime (i.e., destruction of airport, helipad, or utility property) leads to injuries or a “substantial interruption” in utilities, the offense is upgraded to a third degree crime. Lastly, destruction of property at a graveyard, mausoleum, or other burial site is also a third degree crime.

Penalties for Criminal Mischief

These levels of crime each correlate to specific penalties authorized for those crime levels. As mentioned, disorderly persons offenses are typically lower-level crimes, but they can still carry potential penalties including high fines and jail time. Fourth and third degree crimes carry even higher penalties.

A disorderly persons offense is not a “criminal” offense, but it still carries the potential of up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,000.

A fourth degree crime carries the potential of up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.

A third degree crime carries the potential of 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.

Criminal Mischief as a Juvenile Offense

Juvenile offenses are crimes charged against people under 18. Typically, these offenses are charged in a different “juvenile justice system” instead of the criminal justice system. Under this system, you may need to pay fines and restitution for the damage you caused, but you may face very different penalties than adults charged with the offense, including the following:

  • Crime prevention classes
  • Community service
  • Juvenile probation
  • GPS monitoring
  • Related therapy and rehabilitation programs

Call Our Atlantic City Criminal Mischief and Vandalism Lawyers for a Free Consultation

If you are facing charges for destruction of property and criminal mischief in New Jersey, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today to schedule a free legal consultation on your case. Our Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers are available free consultations. Call (609) 625-3006 today to schedule your free consultation.