teen vandalizing a wall
In basic terms, criminal mischief is the wanton and willful destruction of property.

Movies like Fight Club glamorize this type of behavior and in many circles, it has become a rite of passage. Usually committed by teenagers and college students who want to do something wild, criminal mischief, despite its name is a serious offense. Depending on the extent of the property damage, it can be charged as a felony in Colorado.

Ultimately, if you are charged with criminal mischief in Colorado, it is important to understand your options and to get in contact with a criminal defense attorney immediately.

What Exactly is Criminal Mischief?

Criminal mischief can describe any number of behaviors that wilfully cause damage to someone’s property. Not only is it against the law, but those convicted can be sued for the damage that they caused to the property owner. If convicted in criminal court, that conviction can be used in civil court to leverage a guilty verdict.

Criminal mischief is defined in the Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-4-501. It is loosely defined as the intentional destruction of property not belonging to the defendant. It can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This depends on how much damage was caused.

In Colorado, the cut off for a felony is $1000 worth of damage. Anyone who is found guilty of causing more than $1000 worth of damage is guilty of a felony. The chart below describes the various penalties for criminal mischief.

Amount of Damage Criminal Category Maximum Punishment
Less than $300 Class 3 Misdemeanor 6 months/jail, $750 fine
$300 – $750 Class 2 Misdemeanor 1 years/prison, $1000 fine
$750 – $999 Class 1 Misdemeanor 1.5 years/prison, $5000 fine
$1000 – $5000 Class 6 Felony 1.5 years/prison, $100,000 fine
$5000 – $20,000 Class 5 Felony 3 years/prison, $100,000 fine
$20,000 – $100,000 Class 4 Felony 6 years/prison, $500,000 fine
$100,000 – $1 million Class 3 Felony 12 years/prison, $750,000 fine
Over $1 million Class 2 Felony 24 years in prison, $1 million fine

Is Vandalism Considered Criminal Mischief?

Yes. Regardless of how beautiful your graffiti is, vandalism is considered criminal mischief under Colorado law. This includes tagging or even super good artwork. The same above-mentioned laws apply to vandalism and graffiti that apply to criminal mischief. Under Colorado law, they are indistinct.

Defending Against Criminal Mischief Charges

Even those who are caught red-handed can contest the amount of damage that the state is claiming was done. Since this has a profound impact on the severity of the charges, contesting the dollar amount is a way to reduce your sentence. This includes claiming that there was some damage already there that cannot be attributed to your mischief.

In addition, you can claim:

  • You were identified mistakenly. The “wasn’t me” defense is a valid defense against the charges of criminal mischief. In some cases, where CCTV picked up footage that implicates you, the footage may be unclear. In other cases, you may be under suspicion for the crime without any real evidence and the police and prosecution attempt to leverage a plea.
  • The damage wasn’t intentional. By definition, criminal mischief requires that the damage was intentional. If the damage was unintentional, you are not guilty of any crime. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be held liable in civil court, but that’s a different matter entirely.
  • Choice of evils defense. A choice of evils defense simply states that destroying the property was the lesser of two evils. For instance, if you drove your car into a Starbucks in order to avoid hitting a young child. Self-defense or the defense of others can also be raised as a defense against criminal mischief.

Talk to a Colorado Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal mischief charges are serious, but many times courts can be persuaded to take it easy on defendants who are youthful, exuberant, or otherwise don’t have criminal records. Talk to the team at the office of Miller Leonard, P.C. We can help defend you from criminal mischief charges.


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