When Fun Times on Mischief Night and Halloween Become Criminal: Vandalism, Property Damage and Criminal Mischief

Its the same two nights every year throughout New York State. Mischief Night followed by the main event, Halloween. For preteens in costumes of all shapes and sizes, Halloween is about trick-or-treating and scarfing down way too much candy. For parents of little boys and girls, it is about dressing up their children for their own gratification and pleasure. For high schoolers, teenagers and college aged men and women, Mischief and Halloween nights are potentially a lot more than costumes and candy. In fact, throwing an egg at a car, spray painting a street sign, or knocking over that little yellow scooter that has always annoyed you because it managed to squeeze into the smallest parking spot on your crowded Manhattan or Brooklyn street can land you in jail facing a misdemeanor or felony crime.

What says you?! When did fun become criminal? Better ask this question now instead of getting an answer from your criminal defense attorney as you await arraignment in a New York City courtroom or a courthouse in a neighboring suburban municipality. The short answer is as follows: If you damage another person’s property, even in the most nominal way, you can face arrest in New York for Criminal Mischief in the Fourth Degree. Cause at least $250 in damage? You will be wishing you get a bag of pennies instead of candy because you momentary stupidity could result in your arrest for Criminal Mischief in the Third Degree, a felony. This blog entry will briefly address why you should leave the Criminal Mischief out of Mischief Night and Halloween unless, of course, you have a penchant for facing criminal charges and paying money for a criminal lawyer to get you out of jail or the hot water of a witch’s cauldron.

Starting with the bottom up, any damage caused to another person’s property whether by hand, paint, egg, rock or any other object is a misdemeanor crime of Fourth Degree Criminal Mischief pursuant to New York Penal Law 145.00. This class “A” misdemeanor carries a potential sentence of one year in jail. Don’t be mistaken or tricked. Damage can come not only by a variety of objects, but in different ways. Dents, scratches, stains, marks you name it. Damage is damage. Although there are four different means by which you can violate New York Penal Law 145.00, the main three subsections of PL 145.00 make it a crime to (1) intentionally damage another’s property, (2) intentionally participate in the destruction of an abandoned building and (3) recklessly damage another’s property where the damage exceeds $250.

Running with the $250 dollar damage amount, the misdemeanor Fourth Degree Criminal Mischief rises to a class “E” felony punishable by up to four years in prison if you intentionally damage property and that damage exceeds $250. Remember, as bad as misdemeanor conviction can be, a felony is that much greater even if you are not ultimately incarcerated due to a conviction for violating Third Degree Criminal Mischief as codified  in New York Penal Law 145.05. Even more significant than Third Degree Criminal Mischief, Second Degree Criminal Mischief pursuant to New York Penal Law 145.10 raises the bar to $1,000 in damage but at the same time increases the penalty to a class “D” felony and a potential sentence of seven years in prison.

The highest level or degree of any Criminal Mischief crime is New York Penal Law 145.12. First Degree Criminal Mischief does not incorporate a value or dollar threshold for damage. Instead, if you use an explosive to damage property no matter the financial cost, you have violated this crime. In other words, you don’t want to throw an M80 into a mailbox (for many many reasons) or blow up someone’s property. Even if the costs or damages are insignificant, the mere fact that you used an explosive will be the basis of a class “B” felony. Not only does this crime have a mandatory minimum term of incarceration of one to three years, but maximum exposure includes twenty five years in prison. Moreover, nothing would preclude a local prosecutor or District Attorney from charging the lesser Criminal Mischief crimes in addition to the First Degree crime under the theory that both an explosive was used and damage exceed $250 or $1,000.

The bottom line is not fairly clear, but abundantly obvious. If you insist on being mischievous on Mischief Night or Halloween, do yourself an enormous favor and think before you act. Get high off sugar and life, not any other actions. Spending a night in jail and facing felony charges for a few moments of  “fun” simply isn’t worth it. Save your time and dollars (for both paying restitution and your criminal lawyer). Bob for apples (does anyone actually do that?!), eat some candy and if you feel the urge to be a little troublesome, throw on a mask and scare the heck out of the neighborhood kids when they ring your doorbell.

To better understand the crimes of Criminal Mischief as they apply in any circumstance, review this blog, the links contained in this entry and the websites below.

Crotty Saland PC is a criminal defense based law practice servicing clients throughout New York City and neighboring counties and townships. Both founding New York criminal lawyers served as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office prior to establishing the law practice.

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