Steps to Take to Get a Criminal Mischief Case Dropped

By Brock Benjamin
Founding Attorney

If you or a loved one have been accused of intentionally damaging someone else’s property, you may be charged with criminal mischief. While this is a serious charge, there are many avenues that an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you explore to mitigate the charge’s impact, even getting the charges dropped altogether. While jail time is technically on the table in criminal mischief cases, it is rare for a person convicted of criminal mischief to actually serve jail time. With a good strategy in hand backed by a skilled criminal defense attorney, there is a real possibility of getting the charges dropped with an informal agreement to pay the owner back for the damage done.

If you or a loved one are facing criminal mischief charges in Texas or New Mexico, turn to an experienced criminal mischief defense attorney. It is critical that you contact a skilled advocate who can help as quickly as possible, as the earlier you start fighting the charges, the easier it is to get them dropped. We will fight relentlessly to get you the best possible outcome.

What is Criminal Mischief in Texas?

In Texas, the charge of criminal mischief refers to damaging someone else’s property intentionally or knowingly and without the property owner’s consent. Criminal mischief is a charge that encompasses a wide variety of acts and can result in a wide variety of penalties, ranging from a $500 fine to up to 99 years in prison. Common forms of criminal mischief include vandalism, graffiti, breaking doors, damaging cars, and breaking windows. It is also the charge used when someone is suspected of interfering with or disrupting certain public utilities such as electricity, water, and cell services.

The possible sentences for a criminal mischief charge depends solely on the amount of damage that the prosecution can prove – meaning the value of the property that was damaged. As the value of the damage increases, so does the penalty. These penalties can also be increased, or enhanced, depending on certain aggravating factors and the accused’s prior criminal record.

Property DamageCharge ClassificationMax. FineJail Time
Up to $100Class C Misdemeanor$500None
$100 – $750Class B Misdemeanor$2,000Up to 180 days
$750 – $2,500Class A Misdemeanor$4,000Up to one year
$2,500 – $30,000State Jail Felony$10,000180 days to two years
$30,000 – $150,000Third-Degree Felony$10,000Two to 10 years
$150,000 – $300,000Second-Degree Felony$10,000Two to 20 years
$300,000 or moreFirst-Degree Felony$10,000Five to 99 years

The great majority of criminal mischief cases involve damage under $2,500, making them misdemeanors. In order to secure a conviction, the prosecution bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally or knowingly was responsible for the property damage and proving the value of the property damage beyond a reasonable doubt.

How The Benjamin Law Firm Can Help You Get a Criminal Mischief Case Dropped

There are many ways a criminal mischief case can be dropped. This includes coming to an agreement outside of court, turning to a pretrial diversion program, or showing the prosecutor that they don’t have enough evidence or that the case isn’t worth their while (by presenting contrary evidence, fighting existing evidence, or showing that the damage was so insignificant that it would cost the government far more to conduct a trial than was actually lost).

  1. Consulting an experienced criminal mischief defense attorney. It is no secret that people facing criminal charges have better outcomes with an experienced attorney by their side. Your lawyer can help you better understand the law, can evaluate the evidence, and can advocate for you by explaining your unique circumstances and motivations, making it much easier to come to an agreement without involving the criminal justice system so you don’t have a long-lasting mark on your criminal record. Even in cases where agreements can’t be reached, your attorney can fight the prosecution’s evidence, find procedural issues to present to the judge, and mount a strong defense. While you (likely) haven’t been in this situation before, your attorney most certainly has, and they can help you decide what the best next steps are.
  1. Agreeing to pre-trial intervention and working out restitution. Criminal mischief occurs when a person intentionally damages another’s property. While that can be at random, it most often occurs between two people who know each other and acted out of strong emotions. Just because the police and justice system got involved doesn’t mean that things can’t be worked out as any argument is – with accepting responsibility and agreeing to make things right. Even when the victim didn’t know the accused, a lot can be said for taking responsibility for your actions and offering to pay the victim back. An experienced attorney can help you reach an agreement where the charge is dropped in favor of an apology and full repayment for the damages, which is known as restitution.
  1. Considering a pretrial diversion program. When an informal agreement can’t be made to dismiss the case, Texas law allows first-time offenders of misdemeanors an opportunity to avoid a conviction in favor of a pretrial diversion program. Generally, this involves an application where the accused is taking responsibility, explaining the circumstances, and explaining why you deserve to have your charges dropped in writing. If the application is accepted, there will be an interview where any outstanding questions are addressed, and the diversion may be granted. The program offers the opportunity to do community service, submit to drug tests, work with a probation officer, and receive counseling in place of jail time, a fine, and a criminal record.
  1. Contesting the value of the property. Unsurprisingly, it is much easier to get criminal mischief charges dropped when the value of the damage was low. It takes a lot of government resources to investigate a crime and put together and present a case, so showing that the damage was minimal can not only get your charge reduced to a misdemeanor, it can make the charge disappear altogether. May favorite example are beer run thefts. Officers are known to charge the offense by the can when a 12 pack of beer is stolen. Same thing happens in criminal mischief cases. Everyone loves to overstate value.
  1. Showing a lack of intention or knowledge or demonstrating the victim’s consent. It’s easy to prove property damage. It’s much harder to show the accused or the victim’s state of mind. If the prosecutor can’t show that the damage was done intentionally or that the accused knew (or should have known) that the damage was going to be a result of their actions, they can’t prove criminal mischief. In rarer cases, it’s possible to show that the victim consented to the damage (such as giving the accused permission or approval, through words or actions). In cases where the prosecutor can’t prove intention or knowledge but can prove recklessness, the charge can be dropped to a Class C misdemeanor, which is a fine-only offense, avoiding jail time.
  1. Turning to procedural issues. One way to get evidence thrown out and to take the power out of a prosecutor’s case is to show that the evidence was obtained illegally and in violation of the accused’s constitutional rights. This generally turns on whether proper procedure was followed before any statement or confession was made or before any search was conducted. Your attorney can examine the circumstances to find any issues in law enforcement procedure, and use that to your advantage. If the proper steps weren’t followed, even the most damning evidence and conclusive confessions can be legally excluded. 
  1. Fighting the evidence and providing contrary evidence. Any good attorney’s first step in preparing a defense is to evaluate the evidence at hand so that they can defend their client from every possible avenue. It is always the goal to find exculpatory evidence, proving that their client wasn’t responsible for the crime, but that is often not possible. Usually, attorneys have to poke holes in the prosecutor’s evidence and get creative in gathering evidence to support their clients’ side of things, including locating witnesses and finding expert witnesses willing to support the defense theory. One way to challenge the evidence is to create doubt as to whether the property was damaged during the incident at issue or whether it could have been damaged beforehand. Another avenue to explore is to show that there could have been another person responsible for the damage, especially in cases where multiple people were involved in the incident resulting in the property damage. If the prosecutor’s case is sufficiently disproved, or the defense’s case is strong enough to overcome the evidence the prosecutor has, they have no choice but to dismiss the case.
  1. Explaining the circumstances. In cases where the evidence is high and the prosecutor and the victim of the property damage aren’t willing to negotiate, it may seem like all hope is lost. However, it’s important to remember that while the justice system has strict laws, which tend to be harshly enforced in Texas, law enforcement are people, too. They understand that criminal mischief is often a result of strong emotions and flaring tempers between two people with a personal relationship, leading to bad decisions. And, most importantly, in criminal mischief cases nobody was hurt, only property was damaged. There is value in telling a story and presenting your “side” of things, which humanizes your choices and allows the people with your fate in their hands to show mercy. This is especially important when mental health struggles or intoxication was a motivating factor, which opens the door to affirmative defenses such as temporary insanity or diminished capacity.

Experienced Texas Criminal Mischief Defense Attorney

While criminal mischief may seem like a trivial charge, it can have a significant impact. Criminal mischief isn’t treated lightly in a court of law. It is crucial to seek guidance from an experienced criminal defense attorney as early in the process as possible to mitigate the charge’s impact on your life, your freedom, and your future. 

If you or a loved one are facing a criminal mischief charge in Texas or New Mexico, trust The Benjamin Law Firm, led by an expert in the field of criminal law. Founding Attorney Brock Morgan Benjamin is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, making him a true specialist in the field. While many attorneys practice criminal law, few hold such an honor which exemplifies the depth and breadth of Attorney Benjamin’s knowledge and experience in the field of criminal law. Our team will fight tirelessly for the best possible outcome, with the goal of getting the charges dropped altogether. 

Contact us or call us at (915)-221-7462 so we can start fighting for you today! ¡También podemos ayudarte en español!

About the Author
Brock Benjamin is board-certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  His practice is primarily state and federal criminal law and appeals.Brock 

Posted in: Criminal Defense