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What is Considered Criminal Mischief in Texas?

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

What is Considered Criminal Mischief in Texas?

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The term criminal mischief seems like a contradiction in terms because if someone is causing mischief, you think of naughty children — nothing serious. However, criminal mischief can be very serious indeed, enough that the Texas Penal Code defines it and presents an escalating set of penalties for committing a property crime

What does Texas consider to be criminal mischief? And what happens if you are convicted?

Defining the Terms

According to Texas Penal Code Section 28.03, criminal mischief means a person commits an offense if, without the owner’s effective consent, they intentionally or knowingly damage, destroy, tamper with, or mark on tangible property. 

Also called vandalism (which includes graffiti) or malicious destruction of property, criminal mischief’s core definition leans on intentionality. You must intentionally or knowingly commit damage, destruction, tampering, or marking upon, and you must not have the consent of the property’s owner.

Criminal mischief only addresses tangible or physical property — things. It has nothing to do with harming people or committing robbery or theft, which is carrying away tangible property or converting intangible property like accounts.

Are you facing criminal mischief charges?
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What Does Tangible Property Include?

Criminal mischief includes private and public property.

Public property includes things that are accessible by or to the public, such as:

  • Cattle, bison, or horses
  • Fences containing cattle, bison, horses, sheep, swine, goats, exotic livestock or poultry, or game animals
  • Flood control property, including dams
  • Property used for public communication or transportation
  • Public gas or power supplies or other public services
  • Public water supplies and devices
  • Places of worship, human burial, or public monuments
  • Community centers providing medical, social, or educational programs

Tangible private property includes:

  • Motor vehicles, including windshields, gas tanks, or tires
  • Residences, including walls, windows, roofs, decks, or garages
  • Businesses, including signs and displays
  • Trade tools and equipment, including storage boxes and trailers
  • Mailboxes, gates, and fences
  • Lawn ornaments, garden walls, greenhouses, and related equipment
  • Playgrounds and recreational equipment

Examples of Criminal Mischief

Criminal mischief includes these actions:

  • Painting or putting graffiti on walls, fences, or other surfaces
  • Engraving or scratching a property’s surface
  • Putting slogans, drawings, or paintings on tangible property without the owner’s permission
  • Scratching a car’s paint with your keys
  • Breaking a car window
  • Breaking windows on a building or residence
  • Writing on desks you do not own
  • Painting school walls
  • Breaking the doors, windows, signs, or fixtures owned by a business

Overall, if you deface, damage, or destroy a thing that doesn’t belong to you and the owner hasn’t said it’s OK to break it or mark it, you have committed criminal mischief and could be arrested. 

Penalties for Criminal Mischief

In general, penalties for criminal mischief are determined by the pecuniary losses due to the damage, meaning the monetary value of the property and the costs for repairing it.

  • Losses of less than $100 result in a Class C misdemeanor with fines up to $500.
  • Losses of $100 or more but less than $750 result in a Class B misdemeanor with fines up to $2,000 and 180 days in jail.
  • Losses of $750 or more but less than $2,500 result in a Class A misdemeanor with fines up to $4,000 and one year in jail.
  • Losses of $2,500 or more but less than $30,000 result in a state jail felony with fines up to $10,000 and two years in jail.
  • Losses of $30,000 or more but less than $150,000 result in a third-degree felony with up to $10,000 in fines and two to ten years in prison.
  • Losses of $150,000 or more but less than $300,000 result in a second-degree felony with up to $10,000 in fines and two to 20 years in prison.
  • Losses of $300,000 or more result in a first-degree felony with up to $10,000 in fines and five to 99 years in prison.

Prosecutors can take multiple cases of criminal mischief and aggregate the values to create a higher property loss value overall and increase the level of the offense.

The law adds other conditions to awarding these penalties.

For example, you can be convicted of a Class A misdemeanor if you cause, in whole or in part, impairment or interruption of any public water supply or cause it to be diverted in whole, part, or in any manner, including installing or removing any device for the purpose, any public water supply, regardless of the amount of monetary losses.

You can receive a state jail felony for property damage less than $2,500 if you damage or destroy a habitation or cause the damage using a firearm or explosive weapon. 

Damaging or destroying a fence used to produce or contain the list of animals or poultry above is also worth a state jail felony. Or, if you mess with flood control property or devices, or anything to do with public services from gas to transportation, you can be convicted of a state jail felony.

You can get convicted of a third-degree felony by discharging a firearm or other weapon or by any other means causing the death of one or more head of cattle or one or more horses. This is Texas, after all.

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Defenses Against Criminal Mischief

As noted above, the prosecution must prove you caused the damage intentionally or knowingly, meaning you knew what you were doing and the potential consequences of your actions. 

An experienced criminal mischief attorney can challenge the charge by:

  • Citing lack of evidence. There are no witness statements, photos, or surveillance camera footage of the damaged property.
  • Lack of intent. Proving someone did something on purpose can be challenging.
  • Minor damage. If the property damage was so insignificant that you could not be convicted of criminal mischief, you might not be convicted. 
  • Presence of owner’s consent. You can’t be convicted if you and your attorney can prove the owner gave consent to damage or deface tangible property. 

If the prosecution has evidence, can prove intent, and the damage adds up to more than $100, you might be convicted of criminal mischief unless you can verify the owner permitted you. The extent of the penalty depends on the amount of damage you did in dollars.

Hire a Criminal Mischief Attorney

Greg Tsioros aggressively defends clients against criminal mischief charges. He has extensive experience in the Houston area and can create a custom defense to protect your rights and freedom. 

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