Finding yourself on the receiving end of a criminal mischief charge can be a confusing and scary experience, especially if you don’t have an understanding about what you are being charged with.

Selective focus shot of male hands in handcuffs on a wooden table

Need to Know About Criminal Mischief Charges

When in this situation, it’s best to work with an accredited lawyer who can help you understand the ins and outs of what you are going through so that you can build a more effective case in your favor. Rather than letting these charges give you punishment you may not deserve, reach out to a lawyer who specializes in criminal mischief as soon as possible. 

What is Criminal Mischief?

Criminal mischief is a segment of law that is often confused with different charges. As outlined by Cornell Law School, criminal mischief deals with the damage to another person’s property. Specifically, a person is guilty of criminal mischief if one of the following items stands true:

  1. One person damages tangible property of the other person purposefully, negligently, or recklessly using fire, explosives of various types, or other dangerous means 
  2. A person purposely or recklessly tampers with the tangible property of the other person in such a way that they are endangering that person or their property
  3. The person purposely or recklessly causes another person to suffer a pecuniary loss via threat or even deception

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, a pecuniary loss is one that can be measured via money. The way this is typically determined is by producing a bill or a receipt that outlines what the specific loss a person incurred was. 

Criminal Mischief vs. Vandalism

One common misconception is that criminal mischief is simply another word for vandalism. The truth is, however, that vandalism is a form of criminal mischief, but not all criminal mischief is vandalism. Criminal mischief can come in a number of different shapes and forms, along with varying degrees of charges, whereas vandalism is more distinct. 

Misdemeanor vs. Felony: Where Does Criminal Mischief Fall? 

A criminal mischief charge can be either a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on the severity of the supposed crime. Specifically, criminal mischief will be charged as a misdemeanor if the pecuniary loss a person suffered is in excess of $100, but it can also be qualified as a petty misdemeanor if the act caused a loss in excess of $25. Most criminal mischief cases are actually simple violations, which are less serious than misdemeanors. 

However, a criminal mischief charge can come with a felony charge if the situation is serious enough or if the pecuniary value exceeds $400. If there is also any personal injury that results from the situation then the charge could be a misdemeanor as well. 

The Different Types of Criminal Mischief

Considering the fact that criminal mischief charges can span misdemeanors to felonies, it’s beneficial to take a look at the different types of criminal mischief charges that a person may be faced with depending on their case:


Graffiti is a type of criminal mischief that is a subset of vandalism broadly. Graffiti causes property damage and could be charged as either a misdemeanor of felony depending on the specific details of the case. Graffiti can broadly be defined as being written or drawn scribbles, scratches, or sprayings that are illegally put on walls or other surfaces in a public space.


Sabotage refers to the deliberate destruction or tampering of equipment or a space to purposely prevent the person in charge of that space from completing a task or doing their job. The purpose can be to either impeded a competitor or to seek revenge on an enemy. Given this broad definition, sabotage can take sinister turns including with terrorism charges or cyberattacks.


Defacement is a specific form of vandalism which, in the modern day, can either be in a physical or digital form. Digital defacement occurs when a cyberhacker decides to mark a website illegally with their signature or they simply spoil the design of the website on purpose. Physical defacement, however, is also a subset of vandalism and refers to the destruction or altering the appearance of physical objects such as books, buildings, statues, and other items. 


Breakage is the form of criminal mischief which deals with the act of breaking something on someone’s property, as opposed to simply tagging it with graffiti or defacing it. Breakage could be something as simple as breaking someone’s mailbox or it could be something as serious as causing actions which lead to the degradation of somebody’s property. 

Common Punishments for Criminal Mischief Charges

The severity of punishment assigned to a criminal mischief charge will vary greatly depending on the details of the case and whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony.  For misdemeanor charges, it’s not uncommon to see a punishment of fines up to $1,000 and/or being given up to one year in jail as a result.

However, criminal mischief charges that are charged as a felony will come with much harsher punishments as compared to misdemeanors. This could include the charge remaining permanently on your criminal record, fines in excess of $5,000 at a minimum, being required to perform community service, and potentially years of jailtime. Consider how harsh the consequences for criminal mischief can be, it’s important to build an adequate legal defense. 

Nobody should settle for accepting the charges they have been assigned following an event where they may or may not have done something. This is why it’s so important to reach out to an accredited criminal defense attorney who can help you build your case. This will involve gathering as much evidence as possible, any potential witnesses to the event, along with potentially character witnesses, and building an effective overall argument. Work with your lawyer to determine how you will fight for your innocence in the courtroom. 

Criminal Mischief Charges, Everything You Need to Know About Criminal Mischief Charges, Days of a Domestic Dad