A Momentary Lapse of Good Judgment
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.
Criminal Mischief – No Laughing Matter
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.
Criminal Mischief – Is the Victim a “Squeaky Wheel?”
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.”
Is the Restitution Amount Requested Fair?
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.
Florida Criminal Mischief Penalties
The classification of the criminal mischief charge depends on the amount of damage that is caused. Generally:
Damage to the property less than $200
- second degree misdemeanor
- up to a $500 fine
- up to 60 days in jail
Damage between $200 and $1000
- first degree misdemeanor
- up to a $1,000.00 fine
- up to one year in jail
Damage equal to or greater than $1,000
- third degree felony
- up to a $5,000.00 fine
- up to 5 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.
Misdemeanor and Felony Criminal Mischief
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.
Aggravated Criminal Mischief Cases – Automatic Felony Classification
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
- Damaging a public telephone, telephone wires, cables, fixtures, etc.
- Criminal mischief cases involving graffiti carry mandatory penalties
We Are St. Petersburg / Clearwater Lawyers Who Can Help
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:
- Simply because you have been arrested doesn’t mean that the prosecutor has to file a formal charge against you. We may be able to intervene early with the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office and convince the prosecutor to not file charges, or in the alternative, to file a less serious charge than the one currently pending.
- Examine possible defenses and the ability of the prosecutor to prove the case.
- Consider the lawfulness of the investigation and whether the police properly gathered evidence in your case.
- Where appropriate, take steps to make application to a diversion program on your behalf. Successful completion of the diversion program would result in the judge dismissing the criminal mischief charge against you.
- Provide facts and “mitigating” evidence presenting you in a more positive light to the judge hearing your case.
- Negotiate with the prosecutor and the court in an effort to secure a “withhold of adjudication.” Resolving your criminal mischief charge by securing a withhold of adjudication could be highly beneficial. You could thereafter truthfully state that you were not convicted of the charge.
- At the conclusion of your case, petition the court to seal or expunge all of the records related to your arrest.
Have an Experienced St. Petersburg / Clearwater Defense Attorney on Your Side
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.