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criminal mischief photoCriminal mischief occurs any time a person damages another’s property without the owner’s permission, no matter how minor or severe the harm. The definition of criminal mischief varies slightly by state and may also be known by other names, such as malicious mischief, vandalism, damage to property, or criminal damage.

Criminal mischief penalties can be severe and may include prison time. If you were charged with criminal mischief in Colorado, the Denver defense attorneys at Wolf Law LLC are here to help you understand your options and achieve a fair resolution.

Criminal Mischief in Colorado

Under Colorado law, criminal mischief occurs when someone “knowingly damages the real or personal property of one or more other persons.” This crime does not include stealing, but rather anything that damages, breaks, or defaces another person’s property.

Because the definition in Colorado law requires the crime to be committed “knowingly,” it is impossible to accidentally commit criminal mischief. For example, if you’re spray painting furniture and accidentally get paint on your neighbor’s fence, you can’t be charged with criminal mischief. However, if you intentionally spray paint your neighbor’s fence without their permission, you can be charged with criminal mischief.

Criminal Mischief and Domestic Violence

In a domestic violence case, the accused may be inclined to think that they have a right to damage property that they own with their spouse or partner. However, the section of Colorado law dealing with criminal mischief shows this is not the case. The full excerpt from the law states:

“A person commits criminal mischief when he or she knowingly damages the real or personal property of one or more other persons, including property owned by the person jointly with another person or property owned by the person in which another person has a possessory or proprietary interest, in the course of a single criminal episode.” 

For instance, the person accused of domestic violence could break a glass by throwing it or damage a wall by punching it. In this scenario, the accused would be charged with criminal mischief, in addition to any assault and domestic violence charges they may be facing, despite the fact that they own the property they damaged.

Types of Criminal Mischief

There are many crimes that can be labeled as criminal mischief depending on the circumstances. The attorneys at Wolf Law can work with with individuals charged with criminal mischief who have:

  • Committed vandalism, defaced property, or painted graffiti
  • Tampered with emergency exits, fire alarms, or utility meters
  • Removed survey markers
  • Set off smoke bombs
  • Introduced viruses to a person’s or business’s computer
  • Slashed tires
  • Broke windows
  • Damaged property as a result of domestic violence

Criminal Mischief Penalties

The penalties faced for criminal mischief depend on the total value of the damaged or destroyed property. Additionally, if the crime involved a vehicle, the accused could have their driver’s license revoked or suspended.

The penalty structure for criminal mischief charges according to C.R.S. 18-4-501 is as follows:

  • Value of damage is less than $300: Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and $750 in fines.
  • Value of damage is between $300 and $750: Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison and $1,000 in fines.
  • Value of damage is between $750 and $1,000: Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 1.5 years in prison and $5,000 in fines.
  • Value of damage is between $1,000 and $5,000: Class 6 felony punishable by up to 1.5 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.
  • Value of damage is between $5,000 and $20,000: Class 5 felony punishable by up 3 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.
  • Value of damage is between $20,000 and $100,000: Class 4 felony punishable by up to 6 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
  • Value of damage is between $100,000 and $1,000,000: Class 3 felony punishable by up to 12 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
  • Value of damage is $1,000,000 or more: Class 2 felony punishable by up to 24 years in prison and $1,000,000 in fines.

It is possible for someone charged with criminal mischief to get probation. The likelihood of this depends on the circumstances of the crime. If you’ve been sentenced to jail time as a result of criminal mischief charges, consult with a criminal defense lawyer to find out if you may be eligible for probation.

Criminal Mischief Defenses

Depending on the circumstances of the charges, there are varying approaches a criminal defense lawyer can take to help you achieve a positive outcome. Some common defenses used in criminal mischief cases include:

  • Mistaken identity: In many cases, the property owner never sees the person who committed the crime, or they may have only seen the culprit as they were running away. If you matched the description of the culprit and were in the area at the time of the crime, you could face charges even though you aren’t guilty. There have also been cases in which people were charged with criminal mischief because of a personal vendetta the property owner had against them.
  • Insanity or impaired mental state: Perhaps your state of mind was altered when you committed the crime. Things like trauma, emotional anguish, and PTSD can cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do.
  • Self-defense: It is technically possible to commit criminal mischief if you are acting in self-defense. If for example you are assaulted, your only defense may be to throw something at your attacker. While you may break or damage property in this process, you did so to protect yourself and should not be charged with criminal mischief.
  • Exaggerated damages: The prosecuting attorney in your case wants to see you receive the highest charge possible. In an attempt to accomplish this, they may use inflated figures to say that you caused more damage than you did. Criminal defense attorneys are skilled at collecting accurate evidence that shows the true value of damage, which could save you from facing a higher charge than necessary.
  • Choice of evils: This defense may be more relevant to minors than adults. For instance, if a teenager is being pressured to commit a crime, and has a choice between breaking and entering or vandalizing someone’s property, they may choose vandalism. While this would be criminal mischief, a criminal defense lawyer could argue that the teen was making the best decision they could based on the circumstances.
  • Wrongful imprisonment: Often seen in domestic violence cases, if the victim is being held against their will, they may have no choice but to damage property in order to escape or reach safety.
  • Involuntary intoxication: This is another situation that arises out of peer pressure, whether it be in children or adults. If you are threatened to the point where you are forced to become intoxicated, you shouldn’t be punished for your actions while impaired.

Colorado Criminal Mischief Lawyers

Criminal mischief charges are not to be taken lightly. Not only can they send you prison and cost you thousands of dollars in fines, but they can ruin your personal and professional life forever.

If you’ve been accused of criminal mischief, do not wait to speak to a criminal defense lawyer. At Wolf Law LLC, we use our experience to defend your rights and see to it that you get a fair trial. Schedule your free consultation to speak with a criminal defense attorney by calling 720-479-8574 or contact us online.

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