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Criminal Mischief is the essentially Texas’ way of labeling vandalism. Under Tex.Pen.C. 28.03, a person commits an offense if, without effective consent of the owner, he intentionally or knowingly damages or destroys the tangible property of the owner; intentionally or knowingly tampers with the tangible property of the owner and causes pecuniary loss or substantial inconvenience to the owner or a third person; or intentionally or knowingly makes makings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings or paintings, on the tangible property of the owner.

Vandalism is an offense that occurs when a person destroys or defaces someone else's property without permission. Effects of vandalism may include broken windows, graffiti, damage to vehicles, and even damage or destruction of a person's website. The results of vandalism may be found on billboards, street signs, and building structures, as well as near bus stops, tunnels, cemeteries, and many other public spaces.

While vandalism may be considered "art" by some, it is nonetheless a crime against property that is punishable by jail time, monetary fines, or both.

What Constitutes Vandalism?

Vandalism is a broad category crime that is used to describe a variety of behaviors. Generally, vandalism includes any willful behavior aimed at destroying, altering, or defacing property belonging to another.

Common behaviors that may lead to a vandalism charge include:

  • Spray painting another's property with the purpose of defacing;
  • "Egging" someone's car or window;
  • Keying (or scratching) paint off of someone's car;
  • Breaking someone's windows;
  • Defacing public property with graffiti and other forms of "art";
  • Slashing someone's tires;
  • Defacing park benches; and
  • Altering or knocking down street signs;
  • Kicking and damaging someone's property with your hands or feet; and several other behaviors.

In addition, a person who possesses the means to commit vandalism, including possession of a drill bit, glass cutter, or other substance, may also face vandalism charges under certain circumstances (for example, a person under eighteen who carries a can of spray paint at a park or on school grounds).

Vandalism of Federal Property

The federal (national) government takes an especially dim view of vandalism. Although some teens think that trashing a public mailbox is funny, they're probably not aware that such a mailbox is federal property, and that the potential punishment for the destruction of federal property is rather severe. Vandalism at national parks, monuments, historic sites, military installations, and post offices will not be dealt with lightly by federal prosecutors.

Purpose of the Law

Vandalism laws exist to prevent the destruction of property and public spaces, and may also exist to protect against hate crimes and other behavior that is directed at religious or minority groups, such as ransacking a church or synagogue, writing racist or sexist graffiti on school property, or etching a swastika in a car.

Penalties and Punishment

Depending on various factors and value of the property damage, vandalism is either a misdemeanor or felony offense. Penalties typically include fines, imprisonment in county jail, or both. In addition, a person convicted of vandalism is frequently ordered to wash, repair or replace the damaged property (known as "restitution"), and/or participate in programs to clean up graffiti and other forms of vandalism. Moreover, a parent of a minor child may be ordered to pay fines resulting from their child's vandal behavior under a "parental liability" theory.

Related Offenses

Vandalism, on its own, is often considered a non-violent crime that generally affects ones "quality of life", but may escalate to more serious crimes typically involving juveniles including theft/larceny, burglary, drug possession, disturbing the peace, and other random acts of violence.

Defenses to Vandalism

Defenses to vandalism typically include circumstances that might "mitigate" or lesson the penalties, such as indifference, accident, mischief, or creative expression. Even though vandalism is a crime that generally requires completion of the act, it does not require you to get "caught in the act". You may be charged with vandalism after the fact if there are witnesses, surveillance, or other evidence that might implicate you with the crime.


Vandalism has the potential to cost states millions of dollars each year in clean-up efforts and other program costs, and may cause psychological or emotional damage to property owners as well. When a person defaces, alters, or otherwise destroys someone's property, he or she may be required to clean- up, repair, or replace the damaged property or, more substantially, face criminal penalties in the form of jail time, fines, or both.

Dallas Vandalism Defense: The Charles Johnson Law Firm

Criminal mischief cases can often be very difficult for the prosecution to prove. Much of the time the culprit is not apprehended at the scene of an offense. As such, these cases tend to be built on circumstantial evidence and confessions and a skilled criminal defense attorney can be of great value.

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