The holidays are full of decorations, lights, and good cheer… but maybe your idea of holiday spirit is the type of activity that could land you on the naughty list this year. Nothing really bad. Just a prank. Some seemingly harmless mayhem.
If you’re ever tempted to do anything about a Texas neighbor’s holiday display, for instance, just remember that you could be charged with criminal mischief.
If you or someone you know is feeling particularly Grinchy this holiday season, below are some of the activities that could result in these types of charges.
Understanding Criminal Mischief in Texas
First, understand how Texas defines criminal mischief in the first place. These crimes are simply a collection of charges that encompass harming someone else’s property in some way.
Just because you’re not feeling the holiday doesn’t give you the right to do anything about it. In fact, depending on the damage caused, a criminal mischief charge can land you with charges ranging from a misdemeanor to a Class I felony.
Let’s take a closer look…
According to the Texas Code, graffiti is defined as “intentionally or knowingly makes markings, inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings on a property.”
The content of these markings can sometimes aggravate the charge, as slurs or threatening language can elevate the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Similarly, possession of a weapon can also aggravate the mischief charges. If convicted, plan on felony possession of a weapon living onto your permanent record, as it did for one Leander, TX teenager.
Graffiti is often one of the charges teenagers commonly face. Especially during the holidays when your school-aged kids are on break, it’s wise to remind them that their actions have consequences.
Tampering with Property
The definition of tampering with property is “Intentionally or knowingly tamper[ing] with tangible property of another owner, causing loss or inconvenience.”
Just because you did not harm the property doesn’t mean you’ll avoid charges. Scattering, moving, hiding, or otherwise inconveniencing someone through altering their property can still result in a criminal mischief charge.
Knocking over light-up reindeer? Unplugging your neighbor’s lights? Both count a criminal offense. If you’re caught on camera, like the vandals who hit one North Texas family’s yard, you might be charged for every item you moved.
Destruction of Property
Destruction of property is exactly what it sounds like: “intentionally or knowingly damag[ing] or destroy[ing] tangible property belonging to another owner.”
This can be anything from breaking windows to damaging holiday decorations. Destruction of property is also the most likely crime to result in felony charges without aggravating factors.
One of the primary methods of deciding how to punish criminal mischief is by looking at the monetary damage of the incident.
All it takes for property damage to become a felony in Texas is for the damages to exceed $2500. That carries a sentence of up to two years in state jail for people who are convicted, as well as the permanent status of “felon.”
Damage to homes and landscaping can quickly hit that level, making a conviction for holiday vandalism an easy way to be marked for life if you don’t have good representation.
When you find you’re feeling a little extra grinchy this season, it’ll do you well to remember Texas criminal mischief is no joke. Respecting others’ property rights is a Texas tradition, and law enforcement takes these charges seriously.
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, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.