Posted on 5/21/18

Suppose David enters his local Walmart and starts to look for some products. He walks around the store filling his cart with home improvement items and some seasonal things like a garden hose, mulch, and a kiddie pool. He is there for a while and walks around most of the store.

He heads toward the cashier section and waits in line to pay for the stuff in his cart. Like all other shoppers, he places the items on the conveyor belt, has a cashier scan them, and pays for them. When he exits the building, two police officers are waiting for him and place him under arrest. They take him to the police station for questioning. They read him his Miranda Rights and then ask about markings on the bicycles, cuts into the mulch bags, and other damage. David responds that he is unaware of any damage and requests to speak with his lawyer.

David’s lawyer appears, calms him down, and tells him to politely refuse to discuss the case. The following day is David’s arraignment. At the arraignment, the prosecution charges him with criminal mischief for destroying property.

Criminal Mischief in Texas

The Texas Penal Code, in regard to criminal mischief, states:

“A person commits an offense if, without the effective consent of the owner:

(1)  he intentionally or knowingly damages or destroys the tangible property of the owner;

(2)  he intentionally or knowingly tampers with the tangible property of the owner and causes pecuniary loss or substantial inconvenience to the owner or a third person;  or

(3)  he intentionally or knowingly makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings, on the tangible property of the owner.”

In other words, a person commits criminal mischief when he or she intentionally damages or tampers with property, makes markings on another’s property or causes loss or inconvenience to another’s property. In general, criminal mischief charges are misdemeanors, meaning that a jail sentence for the crime is less than a year. However, when the damage is above $1,500, the defendant could be facing a felony charge.

Gangs and Criminal Mischief

During the 1980s when spray paint was popular, especially among gang members, the prosecution routinely charged people with criminal mischief when police caught them spray painting on another’s property. People who found that their cars or houses were spray painted with gang insignia would call the police to report the damage. The police would arrive and take pictures of the damage. When the film was developed, the police would match the insignia to known gang insignia and then arrest gang members based on the match. In fact, the police employed experts knowledgeable in local gangs around the Dallas area and in other locales. This police utilized this method to contain what they considered to be a local epidemic.

Note that there is no criminal action for criminal mischief on one’s own property.

Accused of criminal mischief? The charges can sometimes be serious. Get an advocate on your side. Contact the criminal defense firm of Christopher Abel.

(image courtesy of Clark Young)

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