NJ 2C:17-3 Criminal mischief.

Defending NJ 2C:17-3  Criminal mischief.

After you read the following NJ Criminal Statute (Criminal mischief) you may decide that you need the help of a lawyer, or need a legal interpretation of how this statute applies to your case.  The firm of Villani & DeLuca has experienced criminal lawyers with over 20 years of experience, including a former municipal prosecutor.  Call the number above for a free 24×7 phone consultation or read more about the criminal mischief charge.

Summary of a Criminal Mischief Charge in New Jersey

A person is charged with criminal mischief when there is damage or loss that occurs to someone else’s property as a result of the defendant’s purposeful or knowing behavior. The amount of damages incurred as well as other circumstances surrounding those losses will determine the penalty if found guilty. Examples of conduct that may result in a charge of criminal mischief include, but is not limited to, the following acts: graffiti; tampering with gas, oil or water mains; tampering with a grave, crypt or mausoleum; and tampering with aviation or research facilities.

What the State Needs to Prove for a Criminal Mischief Conviction

In order to land a conviction for criminal mischief in New Jersey, the prosecutor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant damaged tangible property, that the damaged property belonged to another person and that the defendant had acted purposely or knowingly when the property was damaged. To “damage” property means simply to cause some sort of loss, injury or deterioration subsequently reducing the value or the usefulness of the property.

Next, it must be proven by the State that the property damaged belongs to another person. Quite simply, the damaged property cannot be the defendant’s property. The final element is that the defendant acted purposely or knowingly when the deterioration or loss in value to the property occurred. To act with “purpose” means that a person consciously engaged in conduct of a particular nature to cause a particular result. A defendant acts “purposely” if it was the purpose or conscious objective of the defendant to damage another person’s tangible property. In addition, a defendant acts “knowingly” if, with respect to the nature of his or her conduct, he is practically certain that his conduct will cause damage to another’s tangible property.

Possible Defenses to Criminal Mischief

To defeat a conviction for criminal mischief, it could be shown that the defendant didn’t damage someone else’s property purposely or knowingly. Indeed, if there was no intention to act but the damage occurred because of an accident, this would not be criminal mischief. Also, it may be shown that the damage or loss to the property was merely a possibility and not practically certain to occur due to the defendant’s conduct.

Lack of possession of the property is not a defense to this charge – the State just needs to prove some sort of damage to the property of another. Another defense may be that the owner had consented to or given permission to the defendant to act in the way that he or she did.

What’s at Risk if Found Guilty of Criminal Mischief

Criminal Mischief as a Disorderly Persons Offense

The type of penalty when found guilty of criminal mischief in New Jersey depends on the amount of loss incurred to the tangible property. For damages valued less than $500, the defendant would be charged only with a disorderly person offense if found guilty. This can carry a penalty of up to six months in county jail and other fines and penalties.

Fourth Degree Criminal Mischief

Next, if the defendant is found guilty of criminal mischief and damages resulted in losses between $500 and $2000, or if there is any damage or removal or impairment of air traffic devices or tampering of any kind with any airport, landing field, or aviation facility, then the potential prison sentence may be up to 18 months. This would be considered a fourth degree crime.

Third Degree Criminal Mischief

Finally, if the defendant is found guilty and damages result in losses of $2000 or more, or if the act causes substantial interruption of a public utility or communication system, or if damage involved the loss of property used at research facilities or disruption to the facility, or if there was tampering of any kind with a grave, crypt, or mausoleum with the intent of destroying or removing anything therein – including human remains – the potential sentence would be up to 3 to 5 years in a state penitentiary. This would be a third degree criminal offense.

Criminal Mischief Involving Graffiti

In addition, if the act of criminal mischief involves graffiti, restitution may be ordered to compensate the property owner for damages in the amount of damage incurred to the property. Community service no less than 20 days may be ordered, which would include the removal of such graffiti from the property.

NJ Statute: 2C:17-3  Criminal mischief.

a.          Offense defined. A person is guilty of criminal mischief if he:

(1)Purposely or knowingly damages tangible property of another or damages tangible property of another recklessly or negligently in the employment of fire, explosives or other dangerous means listed in subsection a. of N.J.S.2C:17-2; or

(2)Purposely, knowingly or recklessly tampers with tangible property of another so as to endanger person or property, including the damaging or destroying of a rental premises by a tenant in retaliation for institution of eviction proceedings.

b.Grading. (1) Criminal mischief is a crime of the third degree if the actor purposely or knowingly causes pecuniary loss of $2,000.00 or more.

(2)Criminal mischief is a crime of the fourth degree if the actor causes pecuniary loss in excess of $500.00 but less than $2000.00.  It is a disorderly persons offense if the actor causes pecuniary loss of $500.00 or less.

(3)Criminal mischief is a crime of the third degree if the actor damages, defaces, eradicates, alters, receives, releases or causes the loss of any research property used by the research facility, or otherwise causes physical disruption to the functioning of the research facility. The term “physical disruption” does not include any lawful activity that results from public, governmental, or research facility employee reaction to the disclosure of information about the research facility.

(4)Criminal mischief is a crime of the fourth degree if the actor damages, removes or impairs the operation of any device, including, but not limited to, a sign, signal, light or other equipment, which serves to regulate or ensure the safety of air traffic at any airport, landing field, landing strip, heliport, helistop or any other aviation facility; however, if the damage, removal or impediment of the device recklessly causes bodily injury or damage to property, the actor is guilty of a crime of the third degree, or if it recklessly causes a death, the actor is guilty of a crime of the second degree.

(5)Criminal mischief is a crime of the fourth degree if the actor interferes or tampers with any airport, landing field, landing strip, heliport, helistop or any other aviation facility; however if the interference or tampering with the airport, landing field, landing strip, heliport, helistop or other aviation facility recklessly causes bodily injury or damage to property, the actor is guilty of a crime of the third degree, or if it recklessly causes a death, the actor is guilty of a crime of the second degree.

(6)Criminal mischief is a crime of the third degree if the actor tampers with a grave, crypt, mausoleum or other site where human remains are stored or interred, with the purpose to desecrate, destroy or steal such human remains or any part thereof.

(7)Criminal mischief is a crime of the third degree if the actor purposely or knowingly causes a substantial interruption or impairment of public communication, transportation, supply of water, oil, gas or power, or other public service.  Criminal mischief is a crime of the second degree if the substantial interruption or impairment recklessly causes death.

(8)Criminal mischief is a crime of the fourth degree if the actor purposely or knowingly breaks, digs up, obstructs or otherwise tampers with any pipes or mains for conducting gas, oil or water, or any works erected for supplying buildings with gas, oil or water, or any appurtenances or appendages therewith connected, or injures, cuts, breaks down, destroys or otherwise tampers with any electric light wires, poles or appurtenances, or any telephone, telecommunications, cable television or telegraph wires, lines, cable or appurtenances.

c.A person convicted of an offense of criminal mischief that involves an act of graffiti may, in addition to any other penalty imposed by the court, be required to pay to the owner of the damaged property monetary restitution in the amount of the pecuniary damage caused by the act of graffiti and to perform community service, which shall include removing the graffiti from the property, if appropriate.  If community service is ordered, it shall be for either not less than 20 days or not less than the number of days necessary to remove the graffiti from the property.

d.As used in this section:

(1)”Act of graffiti” means the drawing, painting or making of any mark or inscription on public or private real or personal property without the permission of the owner.

(2)”Spray paint” means any paint or pigmented substance that is in an aerosol or similar spray container.

e.A person convicted of an offense of criminal mischief that involves the damaging or destroying of a rental premises by a tenant in retaliation for institution of eviction proceedings,  may, in addition to any other penalty imposed by the court, be required to pay to the owner of the property monetary restitution in the amount of the pecuniary damage caused by the damage or destruction.

L.1978, c.95; amended 1979, c.178, s.30; 1981, c.290, s.17; 1991, c.336, s.1, 1995, c.20, s.2; 1995, c.251, s.1; 1998, c.54, s.1; 1999, c.95, s.1; 2005,c.316,s.1; 2005,c.319,s.5.

AKA: NJ Criminal Charge 2C:17-3, Violation 2C:17-3, Offense 2C:17-3

Disclaimer: A copy of this statute has been provided for your information. This wording was current from the NJ website lis.njleg.state.nj.us as of August 2012.

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