In New Jersey, vandalism, or the damage and destruction of property, comes under a type of offense called criminal mischief. This is a criminal offense under the New Jersey state criminal code and a conviction can lead to fines, community service, and even jail time. Even in the best case, a conviction will still give you a criminal record.
If you are found to have committed criminal mischief, the seriousness of the penalty can vary very widely. The courts will consider what property it was that you destroyed, the value of the damage, and whether or not your destruction of this property caused injury to another party. In any case, having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side will give you the best chance of moving forward with your life.
Criminal Mischief in New Jersey Statute
Under the New Jersey criminal code section 2C :17-3, a person is guilty of criminal mischief if he:
- “Purposely or knowingly damages tangible property of another or damages tangible property of another recklessly or negligently in the employment of fire, explosives or other dangerous means.”
- “Purposely, knowingly or recklessly tampers with tangible property of another so as to endanger person or property, including the damaging or destroying of a rental premises by a tenant in retaliation for institution of eviction proceedings.”
Breaking windows, kicking in doors, or deliberately damaging a rental property you are being turned out of, are all common examples of criminal mischief. Most of these offenses include intentional property damage, but in some instances, reckless or negligent conduct can amount to criminal mischief.
New Jersey statute emphasizes that malicious or retaliatory destruction of rental property can also be a criminal mischief offense. Someone convicted may be required to pay restitution for any damage caused.
The Severity of Criminal Mischief Offenses
Naturally, criminal mischief offenses can vary a great deal in how serious they are. Courts are aware that teenagers accused of criminal mischief may have believed a building to be uninhabited, meant little harm, and meant for no one to get hurt. In contrast, a premeditated attack on a home or business causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage will be taken far more seriously.
If your actions have threatened someone's safety or livelihood, the police and the judge who sees your case will treat your case more seriously and consider a far graver penalty.
If your offense counts as a second or third-degree criminal mischief offense according to the statutes set out in the New Jersey criminal code, the courts will consider more severe forms of punishment, than a second-degree or disorderly persons offense.
It is important to remember that even in the more minor cases of youth criminal misconduct, a strong defense is very important. A criminal record could have grave consequences for you or your child's future.
Second Degree Criminal Mischief
New Jersey's code section 2C :17-3 sets out specific offenses which count as second, third, or fourth-degree criminal mischief. Second-degree mischief is the most severe, and then offenses are less serious from then on. More minor offenses count as a disorderly persons offense.
- Criminal mischief is a crime of the second degree if the substantial interruption or impairment recklessly causes death.
- If you damage or remove a sign, signal, light, or air traffic control equipment and if that recklessly causes death.
- If you tamper with any airport, landing field, landing strip, heliport, helistop, or any other aviation facility and your actions recklessly causes a death.
Penalties for second-degree criminal mischief in New Jersey can include a felony charge on the defendant's criminal record, a fine of up to $150,000, restitution payments to the property owner, community service, and between 5 and 10 years in New Jersey State Prison.
Third Degree Criminal Mischief
Criminal mischief is a crime of the third degree in the following circumstances:
- If you deliberately caused damages worth $2,000.00 or more.
- If you damage, eradicate, change or release any research property used by the research facility.
- If you cause physical disruption to the functioning of a research facility.
- If you tamper with a grave, crypt, mausoleum, or anywhere else human remains are stored or interred, in order to desecrate, destroy or steal human remains.
- If you cause a substantial interruption or impairment of public communication, transportation, supply of water, oil, gas or power, or other public service.
- If you damage or remove a sign, signal, or air traffic control and cause bodily injury or damage to property.
- If you interfere or tamper with an airport, landing field, heliport, or other aviation facility and recklessly causes bodily injury or damage to property.
Penalties for third-degree criminal mischief in New Jersey can include a felony charge on the defendant's criminal record, a fine of up to $15,000, restitution payments to the property owner, community service, and between 3 and 5 years in New Jersey State Prison.
Fourth Degree Criminal Mischief
Criminal mischief is a crime of the fourth degree in the following circumstances:
- If you cause pecuniary loss in excess of $500.00 but less than $2000.00.
- If you tamper with any airport, landing field, landing strip, heliport, helistop or any other aviation facility.
- If you break or obstruct any pipe, line, cable or appurtenance for gas, oil, water, electric lights, or telecommunications.
Penalties for third-degree criminal mischief in New Jersey can include a felony charge on the defendant's criminal record, a fine of up to $10,000, restitution payments to the property owner, community service, and up to 18 months in New Jersey State Prison.
Disorderly Persons Offense
If your damage to property amounts to $500.00 or less, then you will be charged with a disorderly persons offense. This offense will be on your criminal record. A disorderly persons offense is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, restitution payments to the property owner, and community service or up to 6 months in the county jail.
If your criminal damage involves graffiti, under New Jersey law, you must serve 20 days of mandatory community service on top of any fines, restitution payments, and jail time. This will include time spent removing your graffiti from the property.
Juvenile Criminal Mischief
Juvenile criminal mischief is not covered by separate laws. It is handled the same way, except under-18s go through the juvenile justice system. in the juvenile justice system, courts have more routes they can go down in handling the offender. They may choose to impose fines, probation, detention, or else pursue restitution or diversion to help rehabilitate the offender.
If the court shows the juvenile offender's parent or guardian failed to exercise reasonable supervision or control over the minor in their care, they too can face criminal penalties.
The parent or guardian can be criminally liable for the damage under New Jersey state law section 2A:53A-15. This statute handles the liability of parents or guardians for willful destruction of property by children under 18.
The juvenile justice system is gentler in its penalties and more invested in rehabilitating the offender to prevent reoffending. However, this system is far from perfect, and juvenile convictions can seriously impact you or your child's future prospects. A criminal record can have a deeply damaging effect on educational and employment opportunities. Early intervention from a defense attorney is the best way to combat criminal mischief charges and safeguard against this.
If you have recently been arrested or charged with criminal mischief, early intervention with the help of an attorney could get your charges dropped. New Jersey offers a Pretrial Intervention Program. Completing a pretrial diversion program can result in your criminal mischief charges being withdrawn.
Pretrial intervention programs can be particularly appropriate for first-time offenders whose personal, social, and health problems may have contributed to their offense. New Jersey's Pretrial Intervention Program offers rehabilitation and support services designed to treat these underlying problems. If you complete your program, meeting its terms, and completing the appropriate documentation, your charges will be dismissed, and furthermore, the records of your criminal charge will be expunged.
Joseph D. Lento is experienced with early intervention. His experience in the New Jersey system means he can help in recommending and negotiating appropriate diversion terms. He has a track record of getting his client's charges dismissed so that they can walk free without being shackled by a criminal record.
Criminal Defense Attorney for Clients in New Jersey
If you have been arrested or charged with criminal mischief, you should not delay consulting with an attorney. Even, indeed especially, in minor cases, early intervention from an attorney could make an enormous difference to how your case progresses.
Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are experienced in reducing and getting criminal mischief charges dismissed in New Jersey. Joseph D. Lento understands how disruptive a criminal record can be for the lives of young people and professionals. The Lento Law Firm can defend you from the second you are accused, potentially stopping the case even going to trial, and if it does, putting forward your strongest possible defense.
Contact us today to arrange a consultation at (888) 535-3686 or contact us online.