With protests popping up all around the country and the energy that comes with them, it can be easy to get a little carried away — on both sides.
Some protesters have been surprised to find themselves engaging in activities that in normal circumstances they would avoid as criminal behavior. On the flip side, police officers experiencing a siege mentality have acted too quickly and with too much force to get protesters to disperse, sometimes arresting huge swaths of people all at once. When this happens in Texas, the people arrested tend to be charged with criminal mischief.
What exactly is criminal mischief?
Good question. In our state, there are a number of criminal acts that fall under the umbrella of criminal mischief. Even more confusing — these crimes can range greatly and can be very serious in their penalties.
In this post, we’ll examine some of the different actions that fall under this umbrella term and cover what the penalties are for each of these crimes if convicted.
What Qualifies as Criminal Mischief in Texas?
The crime of criminal mischief covers a wide range of activities that all end with one result: the willful destruction of another person’s property. In the current protests, this could be damage from rioting, damage done to stores from looting, or other activities such as throwing bricks or destroying city property.
Here’s the definition of criminal mischief according to the Texas Penal Code:
“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.”
Outside of looting, there are a number of actions that can fall under these the umbrella of criminal mischief, including:
You may think that wrapping someone’s tree in toilet paper or throwing an egg on someone’s car is just a harmless practical joke, but it isn’t. In the event that there is damage arising from the prank, you could be responsible for those damages and charged with a crime.
Vandalism can include everything from tearing down street signs to graffiti to general damaging of others’ property. Defacing property that you don’t specifically own — regardless of whether it is public or private — is a crime. This falls under criminal mischief laws and, depending on the value of the property damaged, can be a serious crime.
We’ve touched on this already, but if you commit acts during a riot, regardless of the reason for that riot, you are committing criminal mischief. Whether the riot stems from protests against police or from sporting events, the reason doesn’t matter. If you participate in the damage of public or private property that isn’t yours, you can be charged with criminal mischief.
How Does Texas Punish Criminal Mischief?
The penalty for criminal mischief varies depending on the value of the damage done. Because of this, these charges can range from a Class C misdemeanor up to a first-degree felony in the most serious of cases.
The penalty levels for criminal mischief are as follows:
- Damage to property under $100: Class C Misdemeanor — up to $500 in fines
- Damage to property between $100 and $750: Class B Misdemeanor — up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $2,000
- Damage to property between $750 and $2,500: Class A Misdemeanor — up to one year in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $4,000
- Damage to property between $2,500 and $30,000: State Jail Felony — between 180 days and two years in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $10,000
- Damage to property between $30,000 and $150,000: Third Degree Felony — between two and 10 years in prison and/or a fine not to exceed $10,000
- Damage to property between $150,000 and $300,000: Second Degree Felony — between two and 20 years in prison and/or a fine not to exceed $10,000
- Damage to property over $300,000: First Degree Felony — between five and 99 years in prison and/or a fine not to exceed $10,000
As you can see, the penalties for criminal mischief can be extreme. In situations like protests and riots, it’s easy to get carried away with the emotions of the moment. However, the damage caused can add up quickly when things like arson and destruction of expensive public property are involved. Remember to stay away from these types of situations during protests and avoid criminal mischief at all cost.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth. He has been recognized for his work by Expertise (Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Forth Worth and Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, both 2020), The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.