Damage to property is a broad category with varying punishments across US states. In the majority of jurisdictions, it is defined as any unauthorized activity that causes physical damage to private or public property. Depending on the violation´s characteristics and the jurisdiction in question, it can, in some cases, be categorized as a violent crime.
Common Types of Violations
- Criminal Mischief: Property is damaged with intent, damages are quantified in dollar amounts.
- Criminal Tampering: Interruption or impairment of public utility services. Unauthorized meddling with private property.
- Use of Noxious Substance: Placing devices such as stink bombs in public or private property, usually to cause disruptions in activities or services.
- Criminal Desecration: Damaging tombs and graveyard memorials.
Criminal damage to property can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. For misdemeanor convictions and felony convictions with probation, sentences are typically of less than one year, which would mean time is served in county jail. But serious or repeat offenses can lead to longer convictions and time served in prison. Many minor violations, such as littering, are only punished by fines. In cases when the property damage involves economic losses, defendants must also pay restitution.
Many state jurisdictions consider any damage to property worth less than $500 as a misdemeanor, and damages of over $500 as a felony. In some states, there is a lower felony threshold; for example, in Massachusetts, it is set at $250. On the other hand, several states, such as Missouri, consider any damage to motor vehicles a felony, regardless of their dollar amount.
Jail sentences in criminal property damages range from a couple of days to a few years. Fines can go from a few hundred to $25,000 or more. Restitution is paid in addition to fines, and it is calculated in terms of how much money the rightful owner will need to repair or replace the property.
Examples from State Laws
In California, damages valued $400 and under are considered a misdemeanor and can lead to potential fines up to $1,000 and jail sentences up to 12 months. Damages costing above $400-$10,000 can be considered either a felony or a misdemeanor and can result in a maximum of $10,000 in fines. Over the $10,000 threshold, damages to property are punishable by up to $50,000 in fines. If categorized as felonies, these violations can lead to up to 3 years in state prison. Fines may increase in the case of repeat offenders. If the damage has involved graffiti, the cleaning of the property is also a requirement.
California also has a category named Vandalism of a Religious Site. In this case, the violation can be treated as a felony if the act has elements of a hate crime.
For any the applicable categories, California courts may also require defendants to perform up to 300 hours of community service.
In Illinois, property damage of under $300 is considered a misdemeanor, with a maximum 1 year sentence in county jail. Damages costing the owner more than $300 and less than $10,000, are categorized as a Class 4 Felony, which may lead to prison sentences between 1 and 3 years. For damages between $10,000 and $100,000, the resulting prison sentences are between 2 and 5 years, for damages over $100,000, they are between 3 and 7 years. There are harsher penalties in the case of damages of government or church property, farms, and animals.
For the state of Nevada, when someone causes malicious damage to property, they “shall be guilty of a public offense proportionate to the value of the property affected or the loss resulting from such offense.”
Damages of under $25 are considered a misdemeanor, only punishable by fines, with a maximum of $500. Between $25 and $249.99, the violation is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 6 months in county jail and/or fines up to $1,000. Damages between $250 and $4,999.99, are a gross misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of $2,000 in fines and/or 1 year in county jail.
When the damage to property equals or exceeds $5,000, the violation is a felony, fines can go up to $10,000 and defendants can be sentenced to a maximum of 5 years in prison. Probation is an option in this case, and judges can fully or partially suspend the prison sentence.
In Texas, when the damage is valued at under $50, the violation is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $500. For damages valued between $50 and $500, it is categorized as a more serious misdemeanor, called a Class B Misdemeanor Criminal Mischief, which can result in a maximum of 6 months in jail and/or fines reaching $2,000.
Between $500 and $1,500, the category is Class A Misdemeanor Criminal Mischief. This classification is also attributed to violations involving lower value damages which cause an impairment to public services or communications. These violations are punishable by a maximum of 12 months in jail and/or fines up to $4,000.
The State Jail Felony category is applied when damages are valued between $1,500 and $20,000. It can also be applied to damages amounting to less than $1,500 in some particular cases, for example, when the damage is done by fire or explosion. This type of felony is punishable by 6-24 months in state jail and/or fines up to $10,000.
The Third and Second Degree Felony Criminal Mischief category is reserved for damages valued between $20,000 and $100,000 and between $100,000 and $200,000 respectively. The third degree felonies are punishable by up to $10,000 fines and 2-10 years in prison. In the case of second degree felonies, the punishment ranges from 2 to 20 years in prison, with a maximum fine of $10,000.
For damages valued over $200,000, the category is First Degree Felony Criminal Mischief, which can result in prison sentences between 5 and 99 years and a maximum fine of $10,000.