In Colorado, the crime of criminal mischief is described in Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-4-501. To paraphrase that section, a criminal mischief charge is an allegation that the accused purposely damaged property belonging to another person, or property owned jointly by the accused and another person.
It Is Really Easy to Admit to Criminal Mischief Without Even Knowing It’s a Crime
In our experience at Ready Law, criminal mischief charges often accompany others, and it is somewhat unusual in our experience to see this charge stand alone. Often, criminal mischief is charged based on a defendant’s own admissions made while trying to avoid admissions to other charges. Many times potential clients have told us they simply admitted the facts of a criminal mischief charge while talking to police about an allegation of assault or domestic violence, or both. The problem that arises repeatedly here is that many people simply don’t know that the acts they are admitting to constitute a crime. This is one of many reasons it is best to exercise the right to speak with an attorney when questioned by police.
One of the best examples of, and perhaps the most common scenario in which, a criminal mischief charge arises is in the context of a married couple arguing. During the argument, one of the parties breaks something in the home. It can be as simple as punching a wall and causing damage, breaking a photo frame, etc. People who take such actions during the heat of an argument often do not know they are committing a crime, as they believe they have a right to break or damage their own property if they choose to. If the property is jointly owned, as marital property may vey well be, the statute referenced above clearly establishes the act as a crime. Further, if the prosecution is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the property was damaged in an effort to intimidate someone the defendant is or was in an intimate relationship with, the crime will be charged as domestic violence.
Of course, criminal mischief charges are not limited to domestic violence allegations. This charge often accompanies assault and battery charges, among others. Not knowing the underlying acts constitute their own crime, many people who find themselves being questioned about an argument will essentially admit to criminal mischief in an attempt to convince the questioner that they are not guilty of assault. “I didn’t hit him, I just hit the wall”, can be an admission to criminal mischief.
So far we’ve been discussing criminal mischief in contexts in which it would likely be charged as a misdemeanor. Criminal mischief is charged as either a class 1, 2, or 3 misdemeanor, depending on whether the damage to property amounts to less than $1,000, $700, or $300, respectively. Anything over $1,000 in damage is charged as a felony, all the way up to a class 2 felony for damage of one millions dollars or more.
As you can see from the paragraph above, the value of the economic loss that results from the damage is a very important part of the prosecution’s case. Value and intent are probably two of the most important areas for a defense to evaluate when determining how strong or weak the prosecution’s case is in a particular case.
The best way to determine whether the prosecution case is strong is to review the evidence and the charge with an attorney who has experience successfully defending against criminal mischief charges. If you are charged with criminal mischief, or believe you may be charged, contact our office right away to arrange a consultation.