When we think of Halloween, not only do with think of dressing up in scary or funny costumes, parties, pumpkin carving and going door-to-door collecting candy, we think of all the “tricks” that are played on Halloween. The word “trick” sounds harmless enough – but don’t be fooled! According to the law, some of these “tricks” are actually classified as criminal mischief — so before you go out to egg your neighbor’s house or “TP” all the trees at city hall, you should know that some of these “tricks” can have dire consequences.
Criminal mischief encompasses acts of vandalism to public and private property. Some examples of criminal mischief are spraying or drawing graffiti, breaking a window, “keying” a vehicle or slashing someone’s tires. Most of us would not go to such lengths, even on Halloween. However, sometimes things can get out of hand, and what starts out as an innocent “trick” can escalate into something more serious.
In order for a Halloween “trick” to be classified as a criminal offense, it must consist of certain acts which then must be proven by the State or prosecution by the standards of beyond a reasonable doubt.
Florida Statute 803.13, (1)(a) states that “A person commits the offense of criminal mischief if he or she willfully and maliciously injures or damages by any means any real or personal property belonging to another, including, but not limited to, the placement of graffiti thereon or other acts of vandalism thereto.”
The key words here are “willfully or maliciously” – in other words, in order for the State to successfully prosecute you, they must prove that you committed a purposeful and intentional act, knowing that the act would cause damage to property and in fact did cause such damage.
Now let’s take a look at the damage aspect of criminal mischief. The State also has to prove that your malicious act caused actual damage to property. If the property that was damaged had no value in the first place, the State will have a tough time proving that you damaged something that was already worthless.
The sentencing and penalties in connection with criminal mischief vary, depending on the amount of the damage inflicted:
• For property damage of $200 or less, you can be charged with a second degree misdemeanor which carries a jail sentence of up to 60 days;
• If the damage to such property is greater than $200 but less than $1,000, you can be charged with a misdemeanor of the first degree, which carries a jail sentence of up to one year and/or a fine of no more than $1,000; and
• If the damage is $1,000 or greater, or if there is interruption or impairment of a business operation or public communication, transportation, supply of water, gas or power, or other public service which costs $1,000 or more in labor and supplies to restore, it is a felony of the third degree which carries a maximum jail sentence of 5 years and/or a fine up to $5,000.
There are a few variables as well, that everyone should be aware of:
• If you are convicted in connection with the placement of graffiti, you must pay a fine unless you are considered indigent or otherwise can’t pay. For a first conviction, the fine is not less than $250; for a second conviction, the fine is not less than $500; and for a third conviction, the fine is not less than $1,000. In addition, you must perform a minimum of 40 hours of community service and, if possible, at least 100 hours of community service that involves the removal of graffiti.
• If the vandalism took place at a place of worship and the property damage was in excess of $200, you are looking at a third-degree felony mischief charge.
• If you damage a public telephone (if you can find one anywhere these days) or its wires, antennae, cables or other fixtures, regardless of the damage and so long as a notice of the penalties was conspicuously posted and visible to the public at the time of the offense, you are looking at felony mischief charge.
A Word about Minors and Criminal Mischief
If your minor child commits vandalism or draws or paints graffiti during Halloween, or any other time, they are subject to certain civil penalties, and under Florida law the PARENTS of the minor who commits the act are liable, along with the minor, for the fines indicated above (unless the court finds that the minor or the minor’s parents are indigent or otherwise are unable to pay the fine).
It doesn’t end there. If your minor child commits vandalism or draws or paints graffiti and they are eligible for a driver’s license, the Florida DMV will revoke or suspend their driver’s license for up to one year. And if your minor child does become eligible for a driver’s license, they must wait up to one year after the date on which the minor becomes eligible before being granted their driver’s license.
If your minor child needs their driver’s license to get to and from work or needs their license for medical purposes, they can be ordered to perform community service and have the suspension or revocation period reduced by one day for each hour of service performed. A minor can also elect to have the license revocation or suspension period reduced by the same rate of service.
In addition, juvenile court could also order probation and require the minor to not commit any further acts of vandalism, to attend school or remain employed or any other condition in return for dismissing the charge. If a condition is violated, the juvenile might be ordered to detention and in aggravated cases could possibly face felony charges.
So be safe this Halloween, stay out of trouble and speak to your minor children about staying out of trouble. And if you or someone you know is facing a criminal mischief charge, it is important to talk to a Florida criminal defense attorney about your case. At the Misdemeanor Clinic, we can help you navigate the criminal justice system and help you to obtain the best possible outcome in your particular circumstance.
Call us at (561) 425-8229 or visit our website at www.misdemeanorclinic.com