Criminal damage is a pretty common crime in Arizona but the consequences can be severe. While criminal damage is most often charged as a misdemeanor, it can very easily be charged as a felony -- the amount of damage just needs to be over $1000 (which would include almost any car accident). When there is a domestic relationship with the victim, or the owner of the property damaged, criminal damage is usually charged as a crime of domestic violence.
Criminal Damage & Domestic Violence
Domestic violence criminal damage charges usually arise out of an argument, during which something is broken, "defaced," or tampered with so as to impair its function or value. Unfortunately, the law doesn't require actual damage because the definition of "damage" is "any physical or visual impairment of any surface." Similarly, "defacing" is defined, in part, as "any unnecessary act of substantially marring any surface or place, by any means." So even a scrape or smudge on the surface of an item can be enough.
I have seen criminal damage charges as domestic violence where a cell phone screen protector was cracked after it the phone was dropped. I've even seen them where there were minor stains on a wall after a drink was spilled. As you can see, it doesn't take much to be a domestic violence offender.
Criminal Damage Defenses
Who Owns The Property Damaged?
What about ownership of the property? Well, the property damaged has to be "the property of another." So you can damage your own property without criminal repercussions, but this isn't as straight forward as it seems. If anyone else has an interest in that property, it counts as the property of another. So if you are married and jointly own something that is community property, damaging or defacing that property can be domestic violence/criminal damage.
Was The Damage Done Intentionally or Recklessly?
There is an intent element to the crime of criminal damage. The damage must have been caused intentionally or recklessly. Recklessness is much easier for the prosecutor to prove than intention. Criminal recklessness means that you acted in a way that is a gross deviation from the standard of conduct a reasonable person would observe under the circumstances. This is a pretty subjective standard. If the damage was accidental it shouldn't be a crime unless you were acting recklessly.
Penalties For Criminal Damage
Criminal damage is one of those seemingly minor crimes that can result in severe penalties. Depending on the value of the damage, it can be anything from a class 4 felony, with a maximum of 3.75 years in prison, to a class 2 misdemeanor, with a maximum of 4 months in the Pima County Jail.
When a domestic violence allegation is added to a criminal damage charge, even when it's a misdemeanor, a host of additional potential penalties are added. You can lose your constitutional right to bear arms and be required to participate in months of mandatory domestic violence counseling if convicted. You can be placed on supervised probation for years and have to comply with whatever rules the probation officer sees fit. The judge could order that you have no contact with your family members and you could even be required to find a new place to live. There are also potential consequences apart from the court's sentence: possible Department of Child Safety involvement, potential problems obtaining custody of your children if involved if your custody is ever challenged, and the possibility of negative immigration consequences if you're not a U.S. citizen.
How To Challenge Criminal Damage Charges
Unfortunately, questionable criminal damage charges have resulted in criminal records for numerous Arizonans. These charges are usually worth challenging if you can. A judge may not find your conduct reckless even though a police officer did. You may be able to get the prosecutor to dismiss the charges or you may have to go to trial. Given the state's high burden of proving criminal cases beyond a reasonable doubt, there is usually a decent possibility of being found not guilty at trial.
A good criminal lawyer can articulate your defenses, make the appropriate legal challenges, and effectively present your case to the prosecutor and/or the judge. It's well worth your time to at least consult with a lawyer who has experience handling disorderly conduct cases.
* This blog is published by Tucson criminal defense lawyer Nathan D. Leonardo. Nothing on this website is intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice, but is for general information purposes only. If you have a legal question, you can contact us online or call (520) 314-4125.