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What Is the Penalty for Criminal Mischief?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

Criminal mischief is an offense that covers a range of trouble, from playful misbehavior to malicious property destruction. Recently, for example, two teens in Alaska were charged with criminal mischief after negligently burning a love letter and starting a fire on school property. Meanwhile, in Michigan painting or sticking things on someone's property will get you arrested -- and the same goes for Texas.

Charged as either a misdemeanor or as a felony offense punishable with prison, depending on the state statute and extent of damage, criminal mischief involves the defacing and destruction of property. It's an interesting crime to consider lately especially as cultural notions of vandalism transform.

Penalties for Property Destruction

The penalties for criminal mischief vary, depending on the details of the case, the quality of property and extent of destruction, and how state statutes are written. A misdemeanor penalty may only involve a minimal fine and community service, or it can be much more serious.

Misdemeanors are generally punishable by up to a year in jail and felonies are punishable with prison -- how much time depends on the degree of the offense.

Best of Criminal Mischief

Not all criminal mischief is destructive in the eyes of society, even though it may still be illegal. Some criminal mischief -- but this is rare -- can even turn out great for a property owner. Banksy's graffiti is considered world class art and now people sue each other over rights to what was once seen as vandalism and created specifically to undermine notions of ownership.

Artists like Shepard Fairey -- best known for his Obey Giant campaign and the Obama "Hope" poster -- have been convicted of criminal mischief, and continue to get arrested. It's one of the few crimes where the person accused can become a major contributor to a neighborhood.

Last year, Fairey was arrested in the Los Angeles airport based on a warrant issued by Detroit police. He was wanted for malicious destruction of property -- putting up his posters and stickers, the stuff that made him an international art superstar. But once he was in custody, Detroit authorities declined to extradite him.

Fairey turned himself in voluntarily, was arrested, booked, and released. The Los Angeles Times pointed to this as proof of the evolution of street art from vandalism to a legitimate form of art. But Fairey's treatment also suggests criminal mischief is still a big risk. Even when you give this country "Hope," you can be wanted for messing with property.


If you have been accused of a crime, speak to a lawyer today. Don't delay. Many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to talk to you about your case.

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