What is Criminal Mischief?

Commonly known as vandalism, criminal mischief is often very misunderstood, because the definition varies by state, and it is often called many other names, such as criminal damage, damage to property, and malicious mischief. Criminal mischief occurs whenever a person knowingly damages the personal property of another.

The definition of Criminal Mischief, according to Colorado Revised Statute 18-4-501, states that, “A person commits criminal mischief when he or she knowingly damages the real or personal property of one or more other persons, including property owned by the person jointly with another person or property owned by the person in which another person has a possessory or proprietary interest, in the course of a single criminal episode.”

Under this definition, a person can be charged for damaging property if they jointly own it with someone else – even if the defendant owns the property but someone else has interest in it. Charges of this nature are very common in domestic violence cases – for example, if a couple were fighting and one of them threw something through a window, the accused would likely face a criminal mischief charge (in addition to any other potential harassment or DV charges), even though they owned the property damaged.

Examples of Criminal Mischief:

Any act which causes damage to the land or personal property of someone else can be considered Criminal Mischief. Below are several examples (not exhaustive) of acts which could warrant Criminal Mischief charges:

  • Vandalism – graffiti, defacing public works, etc.
  • Property damage as a result of domestic violence
  • Tampering with smoke detectors, fire alarms, or emergency exits
  • Destroying mailboxes, streetlights, outdoor decorations, etc.
  • Transmitting viruses to damage any technological device
  • Setting of smoke or stink bombs
  • Hitting a vehicle/building/object while doing donuts or driving recklessly
  • Slashing tires, breaking windows, etc.

If you are being charged for committing any of these acts, or are facing Criminal Mischief charges in Colorado, you need a relentless criminal defense – reach out to attorney Casey Krizman for advise on how best to address your particular case.

The Issue of Intent:

An important question to ask yourself if you are facing criminal mischief charges is Did I act knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally? According to C.R.S 18-1-501, there are important legal distinctions in Colorado between these modifiers.

A person acts “with intent” when his conscious objective is to cause the specific result proscribed by the statute defining the offense. (501(5)) Intent means a person acted with the will to cause damage. Note – under this definition, a person can be charged with an intent crime even if the intended result of their intent did not actually occur.

A person acts “recklessly” when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists. (501(8)) Reckless means to knowingly take a risk, and to ignore the potential consequences of that risk (regardless of whether the consequence actually occurred).

And finally, a person acts “knowingly” with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware that his conduct is of such nature or that such circumstance exists. A person acts “knowingly” or “willfully”, with respect to a result of his conduct, when he is aware that his conduct is practically certain to cause the result. (501(6)) Related to Criminal Mischief, this means that a defendant can be held accountable for damage to property if they generally understood their actions would cause the damage.

Therefore, while you may not have intended to cause the damage, and may not have been acting recklessly, those arguments may not excuse you from legal liability. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to use other mitigation and advocating tactics on your behalf to best fight on your behalf.

Criminal Mischief Penalties:

Penalties for Criminal Mischief depend entirely on the aggregate value of the property damaged. Below is the penalty structure for criminal mischief in Colorado, according to C.R.S. 18-4-501:

Value of Damage:Class:Possible Jail Time:Possible Fines:
Less than $300Class 3 MisdemeanorUp to 6 monthsUp to $750
Between $300-$750Class 2 Misdemeanor1 year$1,000
$750-$1,000Class 1 Misdemeanor1.5 years$5,000
$1,000-$5,000Class 6 Felony1.5 years$100,000
$5,000-$20,000Class 5 Felony3 years$100,000
$20,000-$100,000Class 4 Felony6 years$500,000
$100,000-$1,000,000Class 3 Felony12 years$750,000
$1,000,000 or moreClass 2 Felony24 years$1,000,000

An important note: If the crime committed involved a vehicle, in some cases the defendant could have their driver’s license suspended or revoked. As well, depending on the circumstances of your particular charge, it is possible for someone charged with criminal mischief to get probation. After reviewing your case, an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney will be able to find out if you are eligible for probation – if you have been sentenced due to criminal mischief charges, reach out to

Possible Defenses Against Criminal Mischief:

Even defendants who knew the risk they caused to nearby property can fight back against criminal mischief charges. Examples of potential defenses include:

  • Self-Defense – If you committed damage to some property while attempting to defend yourself from harm, you are not liable for those damages. For example, if a defendant was being assaulted and pushed their attacker off of them, any damage caused was done in self defense, and they would not be charged with criminal mischief.
  • Mistaken Identity/False Accusation – In many cases, the property owner does not witness the damage to their property, or cannot get a complete view of the culprit. Even if they do get a glimpse as they run away, eyewitness descriptions are not always accurate, and personal bias can play a large factor in misidentifying a defendant.
  • Incorrect Cost of Damages – Prosecutors are not your friends – they will try to give you the maximum charge possible. In many cases, they may also miscalculate or inflate the cost of damages committed in order to achieve this. Krizman Law has the tools and experience to accurately calculate costs and negotiate with prosecutors to mitigate these undue charges.
  • Impaired Mental State/Insanity – Trauma, emotional anguish, PTSD, and involuntary intoxication can cause people to act outside what they know to be safe and reasonable.
  • Accident – you had no knowledge or intention that your actions would result in damage.
  • Incorrect information – no property was ever destroyed

These are only a few strategies that may be helpful any particular case. Every case is different. After personally reviewing all materials, documents, and discovery in your case, Krizman Law will be able to assess which of these mitigation tactic(s) will best assist you in defending yourself against unfair and undue prosecution.

FeloniesUnderstanding Criminal Mischief