It's common knowledge that damaging or tampering with someone else's property is against the law. Even childish vandalism offenses like egging a car or spray painting a fence can lead to serious penalties. Under Texas law, many forms of vandalism are charged as criminal mischief. This quick review will get you up to speed on vandalism laws in Texas.
Criminal Mischief Charges in Texas
Criminal mischief is a broadly defined crime that punishes willful behavior aimed at destroying, altering, or defacing property belonging to another. Under Texas law, a person is guilty of criminal mischief if they intentionally or knowingly perform any of the following acts without the consent of the property owner:
- Damage or destroy the tangible property of the owner;
- Tamper with the tangible property of the owner, causing monetary loss or substantial inconvenience to the owner or a third person; or
- Make markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings, on the tangible property of the owner.
Since this is a specific intent crime, the prosecution must prove that the defendant acted with purpose, knowing that their act damaged or tampered with another person's property. Common defenses to criminal mischief are mistake of fact or accident. Without proof of intent, you can be charged with reckless damage or destruction, which occurs when one recklessly damages or destroys another's property without consent.
Penalties for Criminal Mischief
Punishment for criminal mischief is scaled to meet the seriousness of the crime; but as the chart below reflects, most violations are charged as misdemeanors. Basically, the greater the value of the property involved, the stiffer the penalty.
For example, vandalism resulting in less than $100 in damage is considered a fine-only offense. However, when property damage is valued between $750 and $2,500, you could face up to one year in jail and fines as much as $4,000.
Understanding Texas Graffiti Charges
It's not uncommon for other crimes to be alleged along with a criminal mischief charge. Graffiti is a related property crime that involves the unauthorized writing or drawing on a wall or other surface. Under Texas law, a person commits a graffiti offense if, without the consent of the owner, the person intentionally makes markings, drawings, or paintings on someone else's tangible property with:
- Indelible marker; or
- An etching or engraving device.
Overview of Texas Vandalism Laws
The following chart highlights important aspects of the Texas law on criminal mischief and related property crimes.
|Penalties for Criminal Mischief
If loss is less than $100 or causes substantial inconvenience:
If loss is more than $100 but less than $750:
- Class C misdemeanor
- Punishable by a $500 fine
If loss is more than $750 but less than $2,500:
- Class B misdemeanor
- Punishable by up to 180 days in jail and fines up to $2,000
If loss is $2,500 or more but less than $30,000:
- Class A misdemeanor
- Also Class A if defendant impairs any public water supply, regardless of the amount of the monetary loss.
- Punishable by up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $4,000
If the property was a fence used for the production or containment of livestock:
- State jail felony
- Punishable by up to 180 days to 2 years in state jail and fines up to $10,000
Common vandalism defense are as follows:
- Insufficient evidence
- Owner consent
- Damage done was to defendant's own property
- Lack of intent
- False accusation
Note: Laws are subject to change. It's important to verify the information you read about by conducting your own research or consulting with a local attorney.
Looking for additional information on vandalism laws in Texas? The following links are a great starting point:
Help is Available from a Criminal Defense Attorney
Being charged with any crime is a serious matter and a conviction could stay on your permanent record. If you believe that the charges against you are not warranted, you may want to find help. Contact a Texas defense attorney today to learn more about the charges against you and potential defenses.