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Criminal Mischief in Colorado: What’s at Stake

Criminal mischief occurs when a person knowingly damages the property of another, including property jointly owned by the accused. See 18-4-501 of the Colorado Revised Statutes. It can be either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the value of the alleged damage.

Criminal mischief can be charged in tire slashings, window breakings, tagging, and other acts of vandalism or revenge. But criminal mischief is charged just as often in cases of domestic violence, for example when one person throws a cell phone or punches the wall out of frustration. Even the slightest amount of damage is enough to be criminal. When criminal mischief is charged, jail, fines, probation, community service and restitution are on the table. The criminal conviction will be on your record forever, affecting employment opportunities down the road. A criminal lawyer can help protect your future by fighting the charges.

Penalties for Criminal Mischief

Criminal mischief penalties depend on the amount of the alleged damage:

  • <$500 Class 2 Misdemeanor up to 1 year in jail
  • $500 to <$1000 Class 1 Misdemeanor up to 18 months in jail
  • $1000 to <$20,000 Class 4 Felony typically 2-6 years in prison
  • $20,000 or more Class 3 Felony typically 4-12 years in prison

Probation is often, but not always, a possibility.  If the act involved damage to an automobile or defacing property (as in tagging, or graffiti), then on top of all the criminal penalties, the person’s driver’s license will also be suspended. The alleged victim will usually demand restitution through the criminal courts.

How to Defend Criminal Mischief Charges– What a Lawyer Can Do

Every case is different, but some defenses are more common than others in criminal mischief cases. In any criminal defense, your lawyer will defend your constitutional rights, investigate your case, and prepare for trial. The goal is always to get the case dismissed, win at trial, or poke enough holes in the case so that you receive a better plea bargain. Below are some themes that are common in criminal mischief defense.


Did they even get the right guy? In cases where a property owner calls police to report damage, the culprit is usually long gone. Maybe the owner got a general description as the person fled, or there is some grainy security footage from the scene. If you were unlucky to fit the description and be in the area, you may be facing criminal charges. Maybe the victim assumed it was you because of an ongoing dispute you have with him or her, and the victim mistook an unfortunate coincidence for an act of revenge, and sent police to your house. These are central issues that should be investigated and defended.

State of Mind

Did you know that you were about to cause damage by what you did? Accidentally or recklessly causing damage is not criminal mischief in Colorado. When a jury evaluate your state of mind, they listen to all the direct and circumstantial evidence of whether your conduct was intentional, knowing, reckless, or just an accident. A criminal lawyer with good trial skills can help develop the evidence to win an acquittal in cases like this.

Self Defense

Self defense is one of several affirmative defenses that may be relevant to a criminal mischief case in Colorado. The police may misconstrue legitimate self-defense as an act of aggression and charge you. It is not a crime if you damaged property in the course of reasonable self-defense. If you believe you were justified in causing the property damage, for any reason, talk to a lawyer soon.

Amount of the Damage

Sometimes, the fault of a defendant isn’t really in question, but the dollar amount of damages is. And as discussed above, the dollar value of the damages can dramatically change the penalties a defendant faces. The DA will often try to aggregate separate incidents, or use inflated estimates, to get to a more serious charge. A seasoned criminal lawyer will be able to fight to lower the charges and penalties you are facing. Just because you made a mistake, does not mean you do not deserve a vigorous defense.

In all criminal mischief cases, the stakes are high. A criminal lawyer with good trial skills is critical in defending your rights and reputation. Matthew Hand is Denver criminal lawyer, and has handled over one hundred criminal mischief cases. He knows how to get the best results for you.

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