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What is criminal mischief?

Applying the term "criminal mischief" to a charge may seem to suddenly make an offense extremely open-ended (after all, all criminal activity could be considered mischief). Thus, if you have been charged with it, it may be worth your while to understand the exact legal definition associated with it. This may help you to better comprehend exactly how your alleged offense lines up with the law, what penalties you might be facing, and how you may best challenge such charges. 

The New York Penal Code classifies criminal mischief as the intentional destruction of another's property. It is broken down into four different degrees, with fourth degree criminal mischief including: 

  • Damaging the property of another person
  • Participating in the damaging or destruction of an abandoned building 
  • Causing up to $250 in property damage
  • Intentionally damaging telephonic or TTY communication equipment to prevent another from communicating with the police or fire departments, or emergency medical services. 

Fourth-degree criminal mischief charges qualify as a Class A misdemeanor. Third-degree criminal mischief (which is classified as a Class E felony) is said to have occurred is it is believed you broke into someone's car or caused property damage in excess of $250. You may be charged with second-degree criminal mischief (and face a Class D felony) if it is believed that you caused more than $500 in property damage. Finally, first-degree criminal mischief (a Class B felony) is the charge you may face it it is believed that you damaged property using an explosive device. 

As is the case with all criminal accusations, an element of intent must be demonstrated. If, for example, you damaged property in a car accident, you may not be held liable for property damage (you may, however, still face civil action should accident victims seek compensation). 

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