Criminal Mischief is one of the more common crimes charged in Pennsylvania, yet the average person does not know exactly what it is. Unlike most offenses under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, its name it not self-explanatory. It sounds like generalized badassery engaged in by the likes of Bevis and Butthead, Bart Simpson, Denis the Menace and Eddie Haskell. If you got the "Eddie Haskell," reference, I hate to break it to you, but you are old, as am I for making the reference.
Quite simply, criminal mischief means intentionally or recklessly destroying, damaging or tampering with someone else's property. Criminal mischief is one of those rare crimes with a grading that can vary anywhere from a summary offense all the way up to a third degree felony. It is a third degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine if the damages are in excess of $5,000, or if the act causes substantial interruption or impairment to public transportation or communication, or if it disrupts supplies of water, gas, power or other public utilities. Criminal mischief is a second degree misdemeanor punishable by up to two years incarceration and a $5,000 fine if the damage is between $1,000 and $4,999.99. It is a third degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in county jail and a $2,500 fine if the damage is between $500 and $999.99, or if the act involves graffiti to private or public property resulting in damage of over $150. All other forms of criminal mischief constitute a summary offense punishable by up to 90 days in county jail and a $300 fine.
Often times, an attorney can work out a plea agreement for those charged with criminal mischief, allowing the defendant to escape without a criminal record, especially if the offense is graded as a misdemeanor or summary offense. The defendant will always be required to pay full restitution and court costs, and will usually also have to perform some community service. In State College, Pennsylvania, where my office is located, virtually ALL acts of criminal mischief involve alcohol, so a charge of public drunkenness and/or underage drinking will often be attached to the criminal mischief charge.
A momentary lapse of judgment while a drunk undergrad student is a really stupid reason to have a criminal record. As you may have guessed, the vast majority of criminal mischief cases involve juvenile and young adult males, who will ultimately have to undergo a criminal background check when they apply for their first real job. If you are charged with criminal mischief, you should talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. He limits his practice to criminal law matters.