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What is the Difference between Criminal Trespass and Criminal Mischief?

Texas protects the rights of property owners to enjoy their property without interference. If you end up damaging someone’s property or even entering it without permission, you could face criminal charges and potentially severe penalties. In this blog, we look at two common property crimes: criminal trespass and criminal mischief. They sound the same but are ultimately different. The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates can defend anyone charged with either—just call.

Criminal Mischief in Texas

Section 28.03 of the Penal Code explains criminal mischief. This offense involves doing any of the following intentionally or knowingly without the owner’s consent:

  • Damaging or destroying someone’s property; or
  • Tampering with someone’s property or causing inconvenience or financial loss to the owner or someone else; or
  • Marking or drawing on someone else’s property.

A common example of criminal mischief is graffiti. You spray paint on someone’s garage and draw a symbol or even write your name. You can also face criminal mischief charges for damaging any property. Breaking windows, smashing lawn ornaments, or slashing tires can also qualify.

Criminal mischief charges depend on the amount of loss you cause. If you cause less than $100, you will only face Class C misdemeanor charges. But if you cause at least $2,500 in damage, you can face state jail felony charges, and more than $25,000 in damage can result in third-degree felony charges.

Criminal Trespass in Texas

Criminal trespass is defined at Section 30.05 of the Penal Code. It is a crime to enter or remain on someone’s property without consent if you:

  • Had notice you couldn’t enter, or
  • Were told to leave but didn’t.

Imagine someone has a “No Trespassing” sign posted, but you go onto the property anyway. That’s a criminal offense of trespass. It’s also a crime to wander onto property that isn’t marked or enclosed and to stay after the owner tells you to leave. A first offense is typically charged as a Class B misdemeanor.

Differences between the Two Crimes

As you can see, criminal trespass requires going onto someone else’ property or staying there without permission. There is no requirement for criminal mischief that you trespass to commit the crime. You might—but you might also damage or interfere with someone’s tangible property off their premises.

For example, you could go into a parking lot and damage someone’s vehicle, or else you could damage someone’s property without stepping foot on their land. Imagine a person who shoots a gun and the bullet smashes a person’s window to their home or their car’s windshield. You didn’t trespass, but you still damaged their property, so you committed criminal mischief.

You Can Be Charged with Both

Someone who trespasses and then damages property can face both criminal mischief and criminal trespass charges. Even worse, you might even get charged with burglary—a much more serious offense than criminal mischief.

Burglary comes in many shapes and sizes. But it certainly includes entering someone’s home or private building with the intent of committing a felony inside. If you intended to commit significant damage inside to the property, then you can face a burglary charge on top of everything else.

Most burglary of someone’s home is a second-degree felony. In Texas, a first-time offender is looking at a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. By contrast, a state jail felony could result in a maximum of 2 years behind bars. So if you trespass with the intent to cause serious damage, you can end up in prison for a much longer time.

Our Houston Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

Criminal charges have a way of spiraling out of control. Call an experienced criminal defense attorney for assistance. Tad Nelson is a Board-Certified Houston criminal defense attorney who can review the facts and help you understand what defenses you can raise.

With respect to criminal mischief, you might have accidentally damaged someone’s property, so you raise that as a defense on your behalf. That’s not enough to satisfy the “intent” or “knowing” standards if you ended up acting only negligently. Consequently, you might face reduced charges.

If you are charged with burglary, you might defend on the grounds that you had no intent to commit a felony on the premises. Of course, that’s harder to argue if you did end up damaging someone’s property.

Contact Tad Nelson for a deeper dive into the criminal penalties you face and what defenses will work best in your situation. Our firm offers a free consultation to those interested.