Criminal mischief refers to intentionally damaging another’s property. The severity of the crime depends on the value of the property that was damaged or destroyed. The value of the property will determine whether the crime is a misdemeanor or a felony. Additionally, prior offenses for vandalism will escalate the charges, as will the nature of the property destroyed.

Law enforcement officers in Florida frequently charge criminal mischief for acts like covering property in graffiti, smashing a mailbox, breaking property during a fight, or smashing a cell phone during a domestic argument.

Most criminal mischief charges that police request are misdemeanor charges. Criminal mischief is a misdemeanor when the property is valued at less than $1,000.00. However, most criminal mischief charges seem to involve property with a value of $200.00 or less, making that charge a misdemeanor.

Charges for criminal mischief in Florida could issue in both adult and juvenile courts. And although the charges standing alone do not appear to be serious, criminal mischief charges are often brought in conjunction with other criminal charges. Additionally, being accused of any criminal offense is serious, even if the crime is alleged to be a misdemeanor. Failing to contest a misdemeanor charge vigorously could lead to incarceration and the payment of fines as well as accumulating a criminal record. Additional criminal offenses will increase the severity of the punishment one faces. Therefore, fighting criminal mischief charges aggressively with a lawyer who understands the Florida criminal justice system is your best defense.

What is Criminal Mischief According to Florida Law?

Section 806.13(1)-(2) of the Florida Statutes creates the offense of criminal mischief. As defined by judges in the Florida model jury instructions, criminal mischief contains three elements or components. The government, represented by the prosecutor, must prove all three elements of criminal mischief beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. The elements of criminal mischief in Florida are:

  1. The property damaged was real property (such as a dwelling or a budding) or personal property,
  2. The property belong to another person who police could identify, and
  3. The accused damaged the property willfully or maliciously.

The government could seek enhanced penalties depending on the nature of the property damaged. For example, any damage maliciously caused to a house of worship, irrespective of the denomination, is grounds for a prosecutor to ask for an enhanced penalty. Damaging a house of worship is a third-degree felony in Florida. The maximum penalty for criminal mischief, when charged as a third-degree felony, is five years in the state’s prison and a fine of up to $5,000.00.

How is the Value of Property Determined in a Florida Criminal Mischief Case?

Subsection 5 of Section 806.13 delineates the formula prescribed for determining the value of the damaged property. Subsection 5 indicates that if separate people suffer damaged property during one event or scheme, then the value of that property should be added together to ascertain the severity of the charge.

As indicated above, the value of the property or the type of property damaged determines the penalty the offender faces. The offense is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in the county jail. If the value of the damaged or destroyed property exceeds $200.00 but is less than $1,000.00, then the crime becomes a first-degree misdemeanor. The punishment for a first-degree misdemeanor is a one-year jail sentence and a fine up to $2,000.00.

The prosecution can seek third-degree felony charges if the value of the property is $1,000.00 or more or the property is of certain nature, like a house of worship, as previously discussed. A person who has one or more misdemeanor convictions for criminal mischief also faces a third-degree felony. Also, the destruction of public telephone service is a third-degree felony.

Graffiti is a particular form of criminal mischief which is treated harshly under section 806.13. A conviction for committing criminal mischief by means of placing graffiti shall be assessed a mandatory fine in addition to the other potential penalties. The possible fines for graffiti are $250.00 for the first conviction, $500.00 for the second conviction, and $1,000.00 or more for a third or subsequent conviction. The statute indicates that the fines must be assessed are not discretionary.

A person convicted of placing graffiti in Florida must also perform up to 140 hours of community service. Section 806.13(5)(b) indicates that any person convicted of a graffiti-related offense shall perform 40 hours of community service and 100 hours of community service removing graffiti if that is possible to do so. The community service hours must be performed in addition to paying the mandatory fine and serving any jail sentence handed down by the sentencing judge.

Special Procedure for Cases Involving Prior Offenses in Florida

Subsequent offenses of criminal mischief, no matter the value of the property damaged in the previous case, allow the prosecution to indict the defendant on an enhanced indictment. The enhanced portion of the indictment pertains to sentencing only and not the underlying crime. Therefore, the court must not notify the jury that the defendant has a previous conviction for this charge. The court commits a fatal error if it allows the jury to know about that prior offense.

There is sound reasoning behind following this procedure. Our system of jurisprudence in the United States is premised upon litigating “cases or controversies,” and not trying people for bad reputations. Consequently, courts in Florida must follow a “bifurcated” procedure of trying the case, and if guilty, then allow the jury to hear evidence of the prior convictions. Otherwise, the jury would be tempted to convict the accused simply because he or she committed the crime before. Some good people do commit crimes, and some bad people are innocent of others. Thus, judges exclude evidence of prior misconduct from trial until the sentencing phase of the trial.

Where to Turn for Help with Criminal Mischief Charges in Florida

Musca Law is one of the pre-eminent criminal defense law firms in Florida. Their criminal mischief defense lawyers will aggressively pursue every viable defense strategy so that you can enjoy your freedom. Call Musca Law today at (888) 484-5057 to learn more.