Criminal Mischief / Arson

Arson/Criminal mischief: The criminal charges and possible penalties in Texas

Arson, criminal mischief and graffiti are property damage offenses with potentially severe consequences in Texas, and in some cases, they can carry the same punishments as violent crimes. Even relatively minor offenses can become felonies if the damage exceeds $1,500.

A property offense charge relies heavily on physical evidence and witness statements. The police must show that you knew you did not have a right to destroy or damage the property, that you intended to destroy or damage it, and that you physically committed the act that caused the damage.

In an arson case, they might use traces of accelerants from the scene, combined with surveillance camera footage from a store where you bought a can of gas. In a graffiti case, they might use a spray can with your fingerprints on it found near the scene. Or, they might use witnesses that saw you near the property when the damage occurred.

And it doesn’t matter if the property belongs to you, if you also share that ownership with someone else.  For example, setting a car on fire to get out of making payments would be a crime since you share ownership with the lienholder. Or, taking a baseball bat to the TV and furniture in your house could also be a crime if your wife has an interest in the furnishings.

A criminal charge of Arson in Texas

Under Texas criminal law, arson is the act of starting a fire or causing an explosion for the purpose of destroying or damaging land, buildings, or vehicles. Starting a fire is considered arson even if the fire goes out before causing any damage.

You can be charged with arson if you start the fire or set off the explosion, and you know:

  • The property belongs to another person, sits on property belonging to another person, or contains property belonging to another person.
  • The property is insured against damage, or that there is a mortgage or lien on the property held by someone other than yourself.

You can also be charged with arson, regardless of your intention, if you recklessly set a fire or set off an explosion without regard for the safety of other people or property.

That means if you do something like start a campfire or play with fireworks in dry woods despite a burn ban, and the fire causes damage, you could be charged with arson. The same applies if you accidentally start a fire that causes damage while trying to manufacture a controlled substance.

Arson is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in a state prison, unless the fire involves a church or someone is hurt or killed. In those cases, it is a first-degree felony, which could carry a life sentence. Arson in the course of manufacturing drugs is a state jail felony, punishable by 6 months to 2 years in jail.

Texas Criminal Mischief Charge

Criminal mischief is knowingly damaging or tampering with another person’s property in way that causes financial loss. That could be anything from slashing the tires on a car to vandalizing a business.

If you cause damage unintentionally, but while acting in a reckless manner, it is a Class C misdemeanor. Otherwise, the penalties for a criminal mischief charge depend largely on the value of the damage.

Damage amountClassificationPenalty
Less than $50, or it causes “substantial inconvenience to others.”Class C misdemeanorA fine of not more than $500
$50 or more, but less than $500Class B misdemeanorNot more than 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $2,000
$500 or more but less than $1,500 

 

Class A misdemeanorNot more than 1 year in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $4,000
$1,500 or more but less than $20,000State jail felony180 days to 2 years in a state jail and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
$20,000 or more but less than $100,000Third-degree felony2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
$100,000 or more but less than $200,000Second-degree felony2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
$200,000 or moreFirst-degree felony5 to 99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000

The Texas Penal Code also makes criminal mischief an automatic felony in certain cases, regardless of the dollar amount. For example, damaging a home using a firearm or explosive is a state jail felony, even if the amount of damage is less than $1,500. The same for damaging a church, cemetery or community center.

Diverting or interrupting public utilities or transportation is also criminal mischief under Texas criminal law.  This includes disconnecting an electric line from the power meter to avoid paying the bill, a Class A misdemeanor.

The Seriousness of Graffiti in Texas

Graffiti is a specific form of vandalism using aerosol paint, an indelible marker, or an engraving device to write or draw on someone else’s property without permission. As with criminal mischief, the penalties vary according to the amount of damage, including the cost of removal, but graffiti can quickly become a serious charge.

Damage amountClassificationPenalty
Less than $500Class B misdemeanorNot more than 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $2,000
$500 or more but less than $1,500 

 

Class A misdemeanorNot more than 1 year in a county jail and/or a fine of not more than $4,000
$1,500 or more but less than $20,000State jail felony180 days to 2 years in a state jail and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
$20,000 or more but less than $100,000Third-degree felony2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
$100,000 or more but less than $200,000Second-degree felony2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000
$200,000 or moreFirst-degree felony5 to 99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of not more than $10,000

Graffiti becomes an automatic state jail felony, even if the damage is under $20,000, if it involves a school, church, cemetery, public monument, or community center.

Because arson, criminal mischief and graffiti charges are often based on physical evidence, we can help you fight these charges by challenging the reliability of that evidence and the legality of the process police used to find it. If the evidence was the result of a search, we may be able to have it suppressed by arguing that the search was conducted in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.

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