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What Is Criminal Mischief with Damages?

Jersey City & Freehold Attorneys serving Essex, Hudson, Monmouth County, and Nearby NJ Areas

New Jersey Criminal Statutes – Penalties for 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.

Different states refer to the crime of damaging tangible property using different terms. Some of the terms used include: Criminal Damage; Criminal Mischief; Injury to Property; Malicious Damage; Malicious Destruction of Property; Malicious Mischief; Willful Malicious Destruction. New Jersey uses the term, “Criminal Mischief.”

In New Jersey, criminal mischief is considered a property damage crime. There are two types of properties that can be damaged:

  • Tangible property (things you can hold, see or touch); and
  • Intangible property (things you cannot see but have value, i.e. rights to long-term contacts, stock certificates, bonds, and promissory notes.)

Under New Jersey Law, Criminal mischief damages pertains only to damages caused to tangible property.

A person may be charged and found guilty of criminal mischief if he damages tangible property belonging to another person (or business) recklessly, or damages tangible property “negligently in the employment of fire, explosives or other dangerous means.”

Property Crimes FAQS – Criminal Mischief Charges

What kinds of crimes can be charged as criminal mischief?

There are many crimes in which a person can be charged for damaging property, including.

  • Vandalism, Graffiti or “tagging” property
  • Smashing mailboxes, light fixtures, windshields, or other tangible property
  • Trespassing
  • Defacing, damaging, or destroying property owned by another person or entity (i.e., business or government)

In order for the defendant to be found guilty of criminal mischief, the State must prove each of the following elements in a case beyond a reasonable doubt:

The State must prove that the defendant damaged tangible property of another. To damage means to cause loss, injury or deterioration. Tangible property means real or personal property which may be felt or touched, which is visible and corporeal (physical). Property of another means that the defendant is not the owner.

Reckless, Negligent, or Criminal Behavior. The State must prove that the defendant acted recklessly or negligently when they damaged the property, or that the defendant damaged property by fire, explosives or other dangerous means.

Reckless Behavior and Criminal Mischief with Damages

The New Jersey Judiciary defines “reckless” behavior in regards to charges of criminal mischief, as:

“A person acts recklessly when (he/she) consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk. A conscious disregard requires that (he/she) actually be aware of the risk, but that (he/she) ignore it anyway. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and purpose of the person’s conduct and the circumstances known to (him/her), its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the same situation. In other words, in order for you to find that the defendant acted recklessly, you must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that (he/she) was aware of and disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that (his/her) conduct would cause damage to another person’s tangible property.”

Negligent Behavior and Criminal Mischief With Damages

The New Jersey Judiciary defines “negligent” behavior in regards to charges of criminal mischief, as:

“A person acts negligently when (he/she) should be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that (his/her) failure to perceive it, considering the nature and purpose of (his/her) conduct and the circumstances known to (him/her), involves a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the same situation.4 That is, in order for you to find that the defendant acted negligently, you must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that (he/she) should have been aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that (his/her) conduct would cause damage to another person’s tangible property.

“Thus, these two concepts, reckless and negligent behavior, are similar but different. Both require that there be a substantial and unjustifiable risk of damage to the tangible property of another. It is considered reckless to take the risk that such damage will result if one is aware of the risk, and it is considered negligent to take the same risk if one should have been aware of the risk. However, reckless and negligent behavior both require a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable man would exercise under the circumstances; this means that in either case you must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that there was fault and that it was substantial. Either type of conduct, reckless or negligent, would satisfy the second element of the offense of criminal mischief.

Third, the State must prove that the defendant damaged the property while (he/she) was using fire, explosives, or other dangerous means.”

Wall Township

1514 NJ-138 Suite 3
Wall Township, NJ 07719

Clark, Clark & Noonan, LLC.

732-303-7857
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