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Corner of 9th Street North & Gandy Blvd.
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St. Petersburg, FL 33702
It could be act of anger, frustration or a momentary lapse of good judgment. Perhaps alcohol or drugs played a factor. In any event, you may now find yourself charged with criminal mischief. We are local St. Petersburg / Clearwater lawyers who can offer you possible solutions to your pending criminal mischief charge.
Don’t be misled by the word “mischief” or its counterpart adjective “mischievous” which is commonly associated with the behavior of school children. You are not being accused of committing a simple prank or having engaged in annoying conduct. In Florida, the charge of Criminal Mischief (Florida Statute 806.13) refers to acts that would more commonly be known as vandalism. Criminal mischief is charged whenever a person willfully and maliciously damages the property of another. Criminal mischief is a serious allegation that carries criminal court sentencing ramifications if you are convicted.
Some criminal offenses are referred to as victimless crimes. In other words, there may be a violation of the law, but the criminal conduct has had no direct impact on an innocent person, nor does the conduct threaten the rights of any other individual. For example, possession of marijuana is often referred to as a victimless crime. The implication associated with categorizing a criminal offense as a victimless crime is that the Judge should show leniency, since after all, no one was harmed. Needless to say, the offense of criminal mischief is not considered a victimless crime.
Not only is there always a victim, but the victim can become a “squeaky wheel” or “cog” during negotiations to effectively resolve the matter. In fact, Florida law requires the prosecutor to send notice to the victim advising him of every court date and informing him of his right to speak in aggravation. Victims of criminal mischief are often emotionally connected to the damaged personal property and may say that they feel personally violated. Some victims will take advantage of the situation and request a restitution amount far in excess of what they truly deserve. Criminal defense lawyers sometimes refer to these victims as people who think that they have “won the lottery.” In other words, their thought process may be, “it was fortuitous that the Defendant grew angry and intentionally scratched my car door with his key, because now I am entitled to have my whole car repainted at his expense.”
If you are charged in Pinellas County with a criminal mischief offense, it is important to have an attorney safeguard your rights with respect to the payment of restitution. A criminal defense attorney experienced in the Clearwater / St. Petersburg criminal justice system can help ensure that you are not required to overpay where the victim expects a windfall and over-estimates or inflates the extent of the loss. On the other hand, the payment of restitution may likewise be a valuable tool for negotiation. The attitude of the prosecutor’s office and that of the victim may be softened when a person is willing, ready, and able to make the victim whole again.
The classification of the criminal mischief charge depends on the amount of damage that is caused. Generally, if the damage to the property is less than $200, the criminal mischief charge is a second degree misdemeanor. (Punishable by up to a $500 fine and Sixty days incarceration in the Pinellas County Jail) If the damage to the property is between $200 and $1000, than the charge is a first degree misdemeanor. (Punishable by up to a $1,000.00 fine and one year incarceration in the Pinellas County Jail) The charge of criminal mischief can become a third degree felony if the damage is $1000 or greater. (Punishable by up to a $5,000.00 fine and five years incarceration in state prison) If multiple items or pieces of property are damaged in a single incident, the law allows the prosecutor’s office to aggregate or add the dollar amounts of the damage together. Thus, in a situation where all four tires on a car are slashed, the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office could add the value of all four tires together to determine if the charge was a felony or a misdemeanor.
Depending on the value of the damage to the property, criminal mischief offenses can be charged by the Pinellas County prosecutor as either a misdemeanor or felony offense. Felony charges may be filed in cases where damage might have initially seemed relatively minor, but now the property owner is seeking repair or replacement costs in excess of $1,000.00. Having a felony conviction could cause you to have difficulty in securing employment, obtain an occupational license or even rent a house or apartment. Further, a conviction for a felony offense will automatically cause you to lose you right to vote, your right to sit on a jury, and your right to own, use, and possess a firearm.
Florida law also classifies certain acts of criminal mischief offense as felonies even though the amount of the damage is less than $1000. For example, damaging a church, synagogue, or other place of worship is a third degree felony if the extent of the damage is $200 or more. Damaging a public telephone, telephone wires, cables, fixtures, etc. is a third degree felony regardless of the actual value of the property. Criminal mischief cases involving graffiti carry mandatory penalties. The Florida Legislature mandates that certain minimum fines be paid for graffiti related criminal mischief. On a first offense, the fine is $250; a second offense, $500; and a third offense carries a minimum fine of $1000. In addition, the court is required to impose community service hours along with any other special conditions (such as restitution, jail, etc.).
Our office may be able to help you minimize or even avoid many of the consequences associated with a criminal mischief charge. Depending on your particular situation, we may be able to:
If you have been charged with criminal mischief, you need the advice of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney who can evaluate the facts of your case and discuss all of your possible options.