Criminal Mischief

The term criminal mischief refers to the crime of damaging another person’s property. Governed by state laws, the offense also involves the defacement, destruction, or alteration of property with criminal intent. Criminal mischief examples include vandalism and graffiti. To explore this concept, consider the following criminal mischief definition.

Definition of Criminal Mischief


  1. The damage, defacement, destruction, or alternation of another person’s property with criminal intent.


Late Middle English    Old French (mischief)

What is Criminal Mischief Meaning?

Criminal mischief is the act of intentionally damaging another person’s property without their permission. The definition varies by state, though the crime always involves damage to property. Some jurisdictions use the terms vandalism, malicious mischief, or property damage. The penalties for this crime vary.

In all examples of criminal mischief, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime to secure a conviction.

  • The defendant damaged another person’s property. This includes minor or significant damage, by destruction, defacement, or alteration.
  • The defendant intentionally damaged the property. This means that the defendant purposefully or willingly caused the damage and it did not occur accidentally.

In some instances, a person can commit mischief if they act recklessly. A person acts recklessly when they know or should know that their actions can cause harm.

Types of Criminal Mischief

Criminal mischief takes place when a person intentionally damages another person’s property. The types of criminal mischief range from minor to extremely severe. In some states, the law only applies to tangible assets. Other states, however, include intangible assets in the criminal offense.

Common criminal mischief examples including removal of paint on a vehicle, or breaking a window on a home or business. Other types of criminal mischief include:

  • Graffiti on buildings, property, or vehicles
  • Introducing a virus into someone’s computer
  • Hacking into a person’s computer
  • Tampering with a fire hydrant or hose
  • Removing a boundary marker
  • Tampering with an emergency exit or alarm
  • Marking another person’s property
  • Tampering with a grave

Degrees of Criminal Mischief

The laws governing the offense differ by state, however, all classify the crime as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the value of damage. Most states further divide the two classifications into subcategories, with first-degree being the most serious. The degrees of criminal mischief each carry specific penalties as outlined in state criminal codes.

The following table is an example of criminal mischief classifications according to state law:

Degrees of Criminal Mischief

of Damage
First Degree $10,000 Class C Felony
Second Degree $1,000 – $10,000 Class D Felony
Third Degree $500 – $1,000 Aggravated Misdemeanor
Fourth Degree $200 – $500 Serious Misdemeanor
Fifth Degree $0 – $200 Simple Misdemeanor

Penalties for Criminal Mischief

The penalties for criminal mischief depend on whether it classifies as a misdemeanor or felony offense. It is also contingent on the level or degree of the offense; which the state’s statutes determine. Typically, the penalties range from fines and/or probation to incarceration.

The following table outlines criminal mischief examples of penalties:

Level or Degree
of Offense

Crime Category

Maximum Incarceration

Maximum Fines

First Degree Class C Felony 10 years $10,000
Second Degree Class D Felony 5 years $7,500
Third Degree Aggravated Misdemeanor 2 years $6,250
Fourth Degree Serious Misdemeanor 1 year $1,875
Fifth Degree Simple Misdemeanor 30 days $625

Along with the penalties for criminal mischief listed above, the courts often order restitution. Though restitution and fines both involve financial costs imposed on a defendant, there is a difference between the two. The defendant pays fines directly to the court and restitution to the victim to compensate for damages.

Criminal Mischief Example Involving Columbus Man

In October 2018, the court sentenced Donald Ziemba Jr. to 645 days in the local jail. The judge found him guilty on 28 counts of criminal mischief-related charges.

In this example of criminal mischief, law enforcement had received several calls regarding windows broken out of moving and parked vehicles. Upon investigation, they determined that the windows had broken as a result of a BB or pellet gun. Video surveillance revealed Ziemba’s vehicle in the area when the crimes took place. Multiple victims also claimed they saw his car right before the incident.

Police questioned Ziemba on February 26 and learned he possessed a plastic bag containing a large quantity of BBs. They also located a BB gun in his vehicle. Police arrested him the following month and charged him with multiple counts of criminal mischief ($0 – $500), disturbing the peace, and discharging a firearm/weapon from the highway.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Asset – Any valuable thing or property owned by a person or entity, regarded as being of value.
  • Damages – A group of people sworn to render a verdict in a trial, based on evidence presented.
  • Defendant – A party who is the target of a lawsuit in civil court, or who stands accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Evidence – Information presented to a court or jury in proof of the facts, including testimony of witnesses, records, documents, or objects.
  • Felony – A promise or contract that is legally binding; the act of binding or obliging oneself, as in a contract.
  • Fine – Money ordered to be paid by a court of law, or other governmental authority, as punishment for a crime or other offence.
  • Intangible Asset – An asset that has no physical substance, such as creative works, reputation, knowledge, copyrights, and patents.
  • Intent – A resolve to perform an act for a specific purpose; a resolution to use a particular means to a specific end.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Misdemeanor – A criminal offense less serious than a felony.
  • Offense – A violation of law or rule, the committing of an illegal act.
  • Prosecution – The lawyer or lawyers who charge and try a case against a person who is accused of committing a crime.
  • Restitution – The restoration of rights or property previously taken away or surrendered; reparation made by giving compensation for loss or injury caused by wrongdoing.
  • Statute – A written law passed by a legislature on the state or federal level.
  • Victim – A person who is injured, killed, or otherwise harmed as a result of a criminal act, accident, or other event.