Pranks and graffiti can seem like harmless fun in the moment, but these actions can cause serious and expensive property damage. It is easy to let this type of situation get out of control and commit a crime, whether you intend to or not. Being convicted of vandalism or criminal mischief in Pennsylvania can have significant consequences that affect your future job opportunities and financial position and can even lead to prison time. If you are facing criminal mischief or vandalism charges, feeling nervous about the legal process and the outcome is understandable.
If you or a loved one has been charged with criminal mischief or vandalism, your first step should be hiring a skilled defense attorney. Your attorney can help you present the best possible defense, negotiate a possible plea deal on your behalf, and help you avoid mistakes that can make defending you more difficult.
Is Vandalism the Same Thing as Criminal Mischief?
Since vandalism is a term that is used in casual conversations as well as in written laws, it is important to understand what it means in a legal context. In Pennsylvania, the legal charge for vandalism is criminal mischief. This crime is defined as causing property damage, either deliberately or recklessly, specifically by:
- Using fire or explosives
- Defacing property with spray paints
- Defacing property with permanent markers
- Using a paintball gun to damage or deface property
Essentially, you can be charged with criminal mischief for property damage in several contexts. A court does not need to prove that you intentionally caused property damage for this charge. Instead, it can demonstrate that you were acting recklessly, which means you were being much less careful than what was reasonable in the circumstances. For example, shooting a paintball gun or lighting a firework near someone else’s property could result in a criminal mischief charge, even if you did not intend to cause damage.
Are There Other Types of Vandalism in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania defines criminal mischief as a different crime with stricter penalties if the vandalism occurs in specific places. Both institutional vandalism and agricultural vandalism are considered more serious than criminal mischief.
Institutional vandalism is desecration or property damage that takes place in any of the following locations:
- A church, synagogue, or other place of worship associated with a religious group
- A cemetery, funeral home, or similar place dedicated to remembering the dead
- A school or educational facility
- A community center
- A municipal building
- A courthouse or juvenile detention center
- A state or local government building
This includes the grounds attached to any of these buildings and any property located within these places. You can also be charged with institutional vandalism if you are caught with spray paint, permanent markers, or similar materials at one of these locations with the intent of using them to cause property damage.
You can be charged with agricultural vandalism if you deface or damage property that is part of or used by a farm or other agricultural facility. Facilities and property covered by the agricultural vandalism law can also include research sites, processing plants, and equipment used to collect data.
What Are the Penalties for Criminal Mischief in Pennsylvania?
The penalties for criminal mischief depend on the value of the damaged property. The victim’s financial loss is calculated based on how much it would cost to repair or replace the damaged property. This means criminal mischief can be anywhere from a summary offense to a felony, depending on these details. Specifically:
- Damage causing property loss of $500 or less is a summary offense, which can result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $250.
- Damage causing property loss of more than $500 and less than $1,000 is a third-degree misdemeanor, which can result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
- Damage causing property loss of more than $1,000 and less than $5,000 is a second-degree misdemeanor, which can result in up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
- Damage causing property loss of more than $5,000 is a third-degree felony, which can result in up to seven years in jail and a fine of up to $15,000.
If the criminal mischief involved graffiti, the maximum property loss for a summary offense is lower at $150. Graffiti that causes between $150 and $1,000 is a third-degree misdemeanor.
While the penalties for high-value damage are the same, there is less leeway for causing a small amount of damage in an institutional setting. For institutional vandalism:
- Damage that causes property loss worth less than $5,000 is a second-degree misdemeanor, which has a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
- Damage that causes property loss worth more than $5,000 is a third-degree felony, which has a maximum penalty of up to seven years in jail and a $15,000 fine.
Similarly, agricultural vandalism carries slightly different penalties at the lower levels of property damage. In an agricultural setting:
- Damaging less than $500 worth of property is a third-degree misdemeanor.
- Damaging between $500 and $1,000 of property is a second-degree misdemeanor.
- Damaging between $1,000 and $5,000 is a first-degree misdemeanor, which can result in up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
- Damaging more than $5,000 worth of property is a third-degree felony.
Since it has such a big effect on the penalties, the value of the damaged property is likely to be an important fact in your criminal mischief case.
Contact a Criminal Mischief Defense Lawyer to Discuss Your Case
If you have been charged with criminal mischief or a specific type of vandalism in Pennsylvania, hiring a talented lawyer to defend you will help you get the best available outcome. Your lawyer can help you understand the specific charges and potential consequences you are facing and advise you on the best approach for moving forward.
Don’t wait to meet with an attorney. Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C., has the experience you need to help with your vandalism case. Call us at 215-822-7575 or fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation now.