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Criminal Mischief Crimes

Criminal mischief involves one person willfully damaging property that belongs to another person. Criminal mischief often involves the placement of graffiti or other acts of vandalism such as keying the side of someone’s car or breaking a window.

The penalties and punishments for criminal mischief depend on the value of the damage to the property, the type of property, and whether the defendant has any prior convictions.

The most common charges are for misdemeanor criminal mischief with less than $200 dollars in property damage. If more than $1,000 of property damage occurred, then more serious felony charges can be filed.

Defenses in criminal mischief cases include:

  • The damage caused to the property was an accident;
  • A legal justification, such as acting in self-defense, defense of others, or defense of property, excuses the action;
  • Other extenuating circumstances excused the act such as necessity or duress;
  • The damage to the property was not the direct result of the action of the person accused of the crime;
  • The property does not actually belong to the alleged victim who made the complaint; or
  • The property is jointly owned by the accused and the alleged victim.

Because of the impulsive nature in which the crimes are often committed, charges for criminal mischief are particularly common in juvenile court.

Attorneys for Criminal Mischief in Hillsborough County, FL

The attorneys at Sammis Law Firm represent both adults and juveniles charged with property crimes such as criminal mischief.

Our main office is located in downtown Tampa in Hillsborough County, FL. We also have a second office in New Port Richey in Pasco County located across from the courthouse at the West Pasco Judicial Center.

We represent men, women, and juveniles charged with criminal mischief in Tampa, Hillsborough County, and the surrounding areas throughout Pinellas County, Polk County, Pasco County, and Hernando County, FL.

If you were charged or arrested for criminal mischief then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm.

Call (813) 250-0500 to discuss your case.


Florida’s Jury Instructions for Criminal Mischief

The jury instructions for the crime of criminal mischief are contained in Section 12.4. Reading the jury instructions is one of the easiest ways to understand the elements of the offense.

The instruction was originally adopted in 1981 and subsequently amended in 1992 and 2010. The jury instructions track the statutory language contained in Florida Statute § 806.13(1)-(2).

In order to prove the crime of Criminal Mischief, the prosecutor with the State Attorney’s Office must prove the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant injured or damaged real or personal property;
  2. The property injured or damaged belonged to the person alleged in the charging document; and
  3. The injury or damage was done willfully and maliciously.

Enhanced penalties apply if the damaged property was a church, synagogue, mosque, or another place of worship or any religious article contained therein.


Value of Damaged Property in Criminal Mischief Case

The second issue in a criminal mischief case is the value of the damage to the property. The crime is classified as:

  • CRIMINAL MISCHIEF- LESS THAN $200 – a second degree misdemeanor;
  • CRIMINAL MISCHIEF- $200 – 1000 – a first degree misdemeanor; or
  • CRIMINAL MISCHIEF- $1000 OR MORE – a third degree felony.

In all cases, the maximum penalties and punishments depend on the value of the damage to the property. The classifications of criminal mischief provide that:

  • If the damage is valued at less than $200, then the charge is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine;
  • If the damage is between $200 and $1,000, then the charge is a first degree misdemeanor which is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine; or
  • If the damage is $1,000 or more then the charge is a third degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Under Florida Statute § 806.13(5) (a), the amount of the value of the damage to the property owned by separate persons, if the property was damaged during one scheme or course of conduct, may be aggregated in determining the total value.


Enhanced Penalties for Criminal Mischief in Florida

Criminal mischief may also be enhanced to a third degree felony based on a prior criminal mischief conviction or the nature of the property damaged, including when a person damages:

  • church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship, or a religious article therein, if the damage is valued greater than $200;
  • public telephone, regardless of the value of the damage;
  • sexually violent predator detention or commitment facility, if the damage is valued greater than $200.

A juvenile or minor child who commits criminal mischief by placing graffiti on any public or private property is subject to additional penalties, and any criminal mischief offense relating to graffiti requires specified community service and a fine ranging from $250 to $1,000.


Prior Conviction for Criminal Mischief in Florida

Certain enhanced penalties might apply if the defendant was previously convicted of criminal mischief. Regardless of the amount of damage to the property, if the defendant has previously been convicted of criminal mischief, then any subsequent charge can be filed as a third degree felony.

In these cases, the jury should first determine whether the defendant is guilty. If so, then in a bifurcated proceeding the historical fact of a previous criminal mischief conviction shall be determined beyond a reasonable doubt. The court commits an error if it informs the jury of a prior criminal mischief conviction before3 the bifurcated proceeding.

For this reason, if the information or indictment contains an allegation of one or more prior criminal mischief convictions, the trial court should not read the allegation or send the information or indictment into the jury room. State v. Harbaugh, 754 So. 2d 691 (Fla. 2000).


Criminal Mischief is an Exception to Florida’s Warrantless Arrest Rule

For most misdemeanors, the officer cannot legally make a warrantless arrest unless the crime was actually committed in the officer’s presence. Instead, the officer has to obtain a warrant, usually after requesting a “direct file” investigation by the State Attorney’s Office.

But any act of criminal mischief under § 806.13, is found on a list of 22 statutory exceptions to the warrantless arrest rule found in Section 901.15, F.S. For this reason, an officer can make an arrest for misdemeanor criminal mischief if the officer gathers probable cause that the crime occurred outside of his or her presence.

In other words, the statutory exception to the warrantless arrest rules applies to any misdemeanor criminal mischief charge. So even if none of the elements of the committed in the officer’s presence, if the officer develops probable cause that the crime occurred then the officer can make the arrest without a warrant.


Criminal Mischief for Graffiti in Florida

Criminal mischief charges are common in juvenile court when young people are charged with a crime especially when the crime is related to spray painting graffiti on a building or fence.

If the criminal mischief charge involves the placement of graffiti then certain mandatory minimum fines are required.

For a first conviction, the fine is at least $250. For a second conviction, the mandatory minimum fine is at least $500.For a third or subsequent conviction, the minimum mandatory fine is at least $1,000.


Injuring or Removing a Tomb or Monument in Florida

Under s. 872.02, F.S., a person commits a third degree felony if the person:

  • willfully and knowingly destroys, mutilates, defaces, injures, or removes any:
    • fence, railing, curb, or other thing intended for the protection or ornamentation of any tomb, monument, gravestone, burial mound, earthen or shell monument containing human skeletal remains or associated burial artifacts, or structure or thing placed or designed for a memorial of the dead, or for any enclosure for the burial of the dead;
    • earthen or shell monument containing human skeletal remains or associated burial artifacts;
    • burial mound;
    • gravestone;
    • monument;
    • tomb;
    • other structure or thing placed or designed for a memorial of the dead;
  •  willfully destroys, mutilates, removes, cuts, breaks, or injures any tree, shrub, or plant located within any enclosure for the burial of the dead.

In addition, Florida law prohibits willfully and knowingly disturb the contents of a tomb or grave. The crime is charged as a second degree felony which is punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in Florida State Prison.

Some individuals are exempted from criminal liability including:

  • any person otherwise authorized by law to remove or disturb a tomb, monument, gravestone, burial mound, or similar structure, or its contents;
  • cemeteries operating under ch. 497, F.S.; or
  • any person acting under the direction or authority of the Division of Historical Resources of the Department of State.

Damaging or Destroying Memorials or Historic Property in Florida

Effective April 21, 2021, Florida law created new crimes specifically aimed at preventing vandalism to, or destruction of, memorials and historic property.

The term “memorial” to include specific memorials established by ch. 265, F.S.,92 and any plaque, statue, marker, flag, banner, cenotaph, religious symbol, painting, seal, tombstone, structure name, or display when such item is:

  • constructed and located with the intent that it be permanently displayed or perpetually maintained;
  • dedicated to an historical person, entity, event, or a series of events; and
  • intended to honor or recount any past or present:
    • military service of any U.S. Armed Forces military personnel; or
    • public service by any Florida or U.S. resident.

The term  “historic property” is defined as any building, structure, site, or object that has been officially designated as a historic building, historic structure, historic site, or historic object through a federal, state, or local designation program.

The destruction or demolition of a memorial or historic property is a second degree felony ranked as a Level 4 offense, if the defendant, without authorization from the memorial’s or historic property’s owner, willfully and maliciously, destroys, demolishes, or pulls down a memorial or historic property.

Criminal mischief of a memorial or historic property is a third degree felony ranked as a Level 2 offense, if the defendant, without authorization from the memorial’s or historic property’s owner, willfully and maliciously defaces, injures, or otherwise damages a memorial or historic property in a manner resulting in damage greater than $200.


Find a Criminal Mischief Attorney in Tampa, FL

If you were charged with the felony or misdemeanor version of criminal mischief or another type of property crime in Hillsborough County or a surrounding area then call us to discuss the case.

We help clients charged with a wide variety of property crimes including theft, trespass, criminal mischief, and arson.

With offices in downtown Tampa and New Port Richey, we represent clients charged with unlawfully causing property damage in Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, Hernando County, and Polk County, FL.

For more than 12 years, our main office has been conveniently located in downtown Tampa in Hillsborough County, FL. We also have a second office in New Port Richey directly across from the courtrooms at the West Pasco Judicial Center.

Call our criminal defense attorneys in Tampa at (813) 250-0500.


This article was last updated on Thursday, June 4, 2021.

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