What is Criminal Mischief?

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Mar 01, 2022 | Criminal Defense
What is Criminal Mischief?

Criminal mischief is a common property crime often referred to as vandalism. California also refers to this crime as malicious mischief.

Criminal mischief is defined under California Penal Code Section 594 as maliciously harming the property of another. In California, criminal mischief is a “wobbler” crime, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances.  Because this crime is a wobbler, the penalties can be far more serious than many think.

What Do Prosecutors Need to Prove to Convict You of Criminal Mischief in Los Angeles?

Understanding criminal mischief in Los Angeles requires looking at the criminal statute to determine what the state must prove to convict you. Every crime has individual elements that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Vandalism is no different.

The elements of vandalism / criminal mischief in California are:

  • The defendant
  • Maliciously
  • Defaced, damaged, or destroyed
  • Property that wasn’t theirs

Maliciously” means with criminal intent. That is, the damage to the property was not an accident. The prosecution is required to prove intent to convict you of vandalism.

One of the classic examples of criminal mischief is graffiti. When someone intentionally defaces property that isn’t theirs with spray paint, they could be convicted of vandalism. Another common example of vandalism is if someone “eggs” a house or car. This crime can also apply under much more serious circumstances, such as if someone destroys public infrastructure.

What are the Penalties for Criminal Mischief in California?

The penalties for criminal mischief vary widely depending on the dollar value of the damage. Because this crime is a wobbler, it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor criminal mischief applies when the dollar value of the damage is less than $400. Misdemeanor vandalism is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

If the dollar value of the damage exceeds $400, the crime can be charged as a felony instead, depending on what the prosecutor decides. Felony vandalism is punishable by one to three years in jail and a fine of up to $50,000.

Even though people think vandalism isn’t a serious crime, the penalties can be severe. If you have been accused of criminal mischief, you should take it seriously. Invoke your right to remain silent and get in contact with a criminal defense lawyer for help right away.

Can You Fight Back Against Criminal Mischief Charges in Los Angeles?

If you are charged with criminal mischief in Los Angeles, there are several defenses that may apply to your case, depending on the facts and circumstances. A criminal defense lawyer is likely the best option you have to fight the charges. An attorney will review your situation and provide legal options, including a solid defense strategy.


If you are charged with vandalism in California, some common approaches to fight back include:

  • Proving you didn’t have the requisite intent
  • Providing an alibi to prove you weren’t there at the time of the vandalism
  • Filing motions to suppress evidence
  • Working with investigators and experts to find evidence proving your innocence
  • Cross-examining witnesses to challenge their credibility
  • Taking the case to trial if prosecutors don’t play ball

Are There Other Consequences If I Am Convicted of Criminal Mischief?

Criminal mischief can have a serious impact on your future. Not only do you face potential jail time and hefty fines, but other collateral consequences may result from having a misdemeanor or felony on your record.

Some examples of collateral consequences include:

  • Trouble obtaining future employment
  • Revocation of professional licenses
  • Inability to acquire housing or loans
  • Losing custody of your child
  • Loss of voting rights
  • Losing your right to own a firearm

Your future is too important to risk going it alone. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today if you have been accused of vandalism in Los Angeles.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.