Trespass and Vandalism

New Jersey Vandalism Defense Attorneys

The crime of vandalism is known as “criminal mischief” in New Jersey and, depending on the property damaged or its value, could be punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $15,000 fine. In some cases, if vandalism is linked to injury or death, the punishment may be far more severe.

Criminal mischief is a multi-faced offense in New Jersey that should not be taken lightly. Whether charged as an adult or juvenile, anyone facing vandalism charges needs the assistance of a defense attorney experienced in New Jersey municipal courts to help get the case dismissed or otherwise resolved on favorable terms. A criminal mischief conviction on your record will be costly right away and, in the future, may harm opportunities for employment, higher education, or public assistance.

The defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall were prosecutors and public defenders in municipal and county courtrooms across New Jersey for decades before joining our firm. Our team understands the criminal mischief law, and how charges can be fought and potentially dismissed so your record remains clean. We also have the relationships with local prosecutors that help us negotiate, downgrade or dismiss charges.

Call or fill out our online form now to schedule a free consultation with an experienced criminal mischief defense attorney from the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall. We have nine offices in New Jersey. Learn how we can protect you from the consequences of a bad decision that led to vandalism charges.

How New Jersey Law Defines and Punishes Vandalism

Criminal mischief under New Jersey law is vandalism, or damaging someone else’s “tangible property,” either purposely or by being reckless or negligent with fire, explosives, or other potential hazards. It may also involve graffiti, which includes drawing, painting or making any mark or inscription on public or private, real or personal property without the owner’s permission.

In most cases, vandalism charges are based on the value of the damage done. Criminal mischief is:

  • A third-degree offense punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000 if the loss is valued at $2,000 or more.
  • A fourth-degree offense punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 for losses of more than $500 but less than $2,000.
  • A disorderly persons offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 for losses of $500 or less

The degree of offense charged also depends on the property allegedly damaged. Criminal mischief is a:

  • Fourth-degree offense at a research facility or if it causes the loss or disruption of research work. (Disruption of research in lawful reaction to the disclosure of information about the research facility – for example, a legal protest or demonstration is not a crime.)
  • Fourth-degree offense at an airport, landing field, landing strip, heliport, helistop or any other aviation facility. It becomes a third-degree offense if it causes injury, and a second-degree offense if it causes a death.
  • Fourth-degree offense for tampering with conveyances (pipes, mains, wires, cables, etc.) or associated structures (poles, towers, buildings, etc.) for water, gas, oil, electricity, telephone, telecommunications, cable television, or telegraph utilities.
  • Third-degree offense for causing a substantial interruption or impairment of public communication, transportation, supply of water, oil, gas or power, or other public services. It is a second-degree offense if it causes death.
  • Third-degree offense for tampering with a grave, crypt, mausoleum or other site where human remains are stored or interred to purposely desecrate, destroy or steal such human remains or any part thereof.

Further, if an act of criminal mischief involves graffiti, a convicted defendant will be required to pay for the damage and to perform community service, which will include removing the graffiti, if appropriate.

A person convicted for damaging rental property in retaliation for being evicted will be required to pay restitution for the damage done, as well.

Without proper legal representation, you could find yourself jailed as well as heavily fined for a criminal mischief offense. Prosecutors have a duty to seek convictions. They cannot help even a deserving defendant avoid a guilty verdict if the case can be made.

To take advantage of what New Jersey law makes possible for keeping a criminal mischief conviction off your record, you need a defense attorney experienced in New Jersey municipal courts. The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can schedule a free legal consultation for you today at any of our nine New Jersey locations about the options available when facing criminal mischief charges.

How Our Attorneys Help with N.J. Vandalism Charges

Before joining the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall as defense attorneys, our lawyers were prosecutors and public defenders in courts across New Jersey. We have worked numerous criminal mischief cases from both sides of the table. We know what the law says and what really happens if a case goes to court, and how to keep a case out of court.

Without a guilty plea, prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction. For example, when criminal mischief charges involve public transportation or another public service, prosecutors must prove a “substantial interruption or impairment” of services, as stated in the law. We can make sure the case against you does not move forward if the facts don’t support it.

Potential defenses to a criminal mischief / vandalism charge include:

  • Demonstrating your ownership of the property damaged
  • Challenging the value claimed for a fourth- or third-degree offense charge
  • Challenging the relationship claimed between alleged vandalism and an injury or death (for example, involving an airport or utility)
  • An alibi, such as being able to establish that you were somewhere else when the offense allegedly occurred
  • Mistaken identity, including problems interpreting low-quality security camera images
  • Unreliable witness testimony
  • Proving that damage to property in question was accidental, such as incidental to a car crash that was not your fault

A criminal mischief case will first be heard in municipal court. Cases involving property damage worth more than $2,000 are indictable offenses and will be transferred to the county’s superior court. We will reach out to prosecutors to work to keep your case in municipal court as a disorderly persons charge, which means a much lighter penalty if you are convicted.

In most cases that move forward, if you have no prior record, our goal will be to achieve a Conditional Discharge of the case, which means probation after which the charge may be dismissed so your record remains clean. This is easier to do when a defendant shows remorse and, prior to going to court, pays restitution for damage done.

We may be able to negotiate your entry into Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI), New Jersey’s primary diversion program for nonviolent first-offenders. This is a one-time opportunity for a more intense, court supervised probation averaging 1 to 3 years. A PTI participant may be required to undergo psychological and drug and alcohol evaluation, rehabilitation, and random urine testing. But, after successfully completing all conditions of PTI, the defendant’s original charges are dismissed—leaving their record clean.

Another diversion program assists active military members and retirees accused of nonviolent crimes who have been diagnosed with mental illness or who have demonstrated symptoms of mental illness in the presence of law enforcement personnel, friends or family members. New Jersey’s Veterans’ Court may allow an armed services member or retiree charged with criminal mischief to avoid trial and a criminal record, and potentially to receive other help through the state’s program.

In some situations, however, especially if you have a prior record, we’ll need to work toward a negotiated plea or try the case before the judge.

If you are facing a criminal mischief charge anywhere in New Jersey, call the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall for a free review of your case. We can explore multiple possibilities for keeping a criminal conviction off your record.

Contact Our N.J. Vandalism Defense Lawyers Today

If you face charges of criminal mischief in New Jersey, don’t risk potentially severe punishment and a permanent record for a lapse of judgment. Contact the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall at any of our nine N.J. offices now for a free legal consultation. Our team will move promptly to seek the most favorable resolution available to your case. Call or fill out our online contact form today.