In Colorado, a person commits the crime of criminal mischief when “he or she knowingly damages the real or personal property of one or more other persons.” Doing so can be a felony, a misdemeanor, or a petty offense depending on the extent or value of the property damage.
Common defenses to criminal mischief charges are
- that the incident was an accident, or
- that the defendant was falsely accused.
In this article, our Denver, Colorado criminal defense attorneys will discuss:
- 1. How does Colorado law define criminal mischief?
- 2. What is the sentence under CRS 18-4-501?
- 3. What are the best defenses?
- 4. Can defendants be deported?
- 5. Can the criminal record get sealed?
- 6. Related offenses
1. How does Colorado law define criminal mischief?
Criminal mischief Colorado. This is defined as knowingly damaging or destroying another person’s property, including personal belongings or real estate. People can face criminal mischief charges even if they jointly own the property they are damaging:
Example: Marcia and Joe are going through a contentious divorce. They jointly own a painting, though it means more to Joe than to Marcia. To get Joe upset, Marcia knives the painting in half. Even though Marcia is co-owner of the artwork, she could face criminal mischief charges because she did not have Joe’s consent to destroy it.
The full language of section 18-4-501 reads:
(1) A person commits criminal mischief when he or she knowingly damages the real or personal property of one or more other persons, including property owned by the person jointly with another person or property owned by the person in which another person has a possessory or proprietary interest, in the course of a single criminal episode.
(2) and (3) Repealed.
(4) Criminal mischief is:
(a) A class 3 misdemeanor when the aggregate damage to the real or personal property is less than three hundred dollars;
(b) A class 2 misdemeanor when the aggregate damage to the real or personal property is three hundred dollars or more but less than seven hundred fifty dollars;
(c) A class 1 misdemeanor when the aggregate damage to the real or personal property is seven hundred fifty dollars or more but less than one thousand dollars;
(d) A class 6 felony when the aggregate damage to the real or personal property is one thousand dollars or more but less than five thousand dollars;
(e) A class 5 felony when the aggregate damage to the real or personal property is five thousand dollars or more but less than twenty thousand dollars;
(f) A class 4 felony when the aggregate damage to the real or personal property is twenty thousand dollars or more but less than one hundred thousand dollars;
(g) A class 3 felony when the aggregate damage to the real or personal property is one hundred thousand dollars or more but less than one million dollars; and
(h) A class 2 felony when the aggregate damage to the real or personal property is one million dollars or more.
Criminal mischief charges often arise out of an argument with something of value getting damaged or destroyed. These charges are especially common in cases involving domestic disputes or disputes between neighbors.
Criminal mischief is sometimes also referred to as vandalism or the destruction of property.1
2. What is the sentence under CRS 18-4-501?
The punishment for destruction of property depends on the monetary equivalent of the damage done. In some cases, this number is the same as the property’s fair market value. In other cases, courts look to factors such as the property’s:
- Original purchase price,
- Replacement cost,
- The general use and purpose of the article, and/or
- Salvage value2
Value of damage
Colorado criminal mischief penalties
|Less than $300||Petty offense: |
|$300 to less than $1,000||Class 2 misdemeanor: |
|$1,000 to less than $2,000||Class 1 misdemeanor: |
|$2,000 to less than $5,000||Class 6 felony: |
|$5,000 to less than $20,000||Class 5 felony: |
|$20,000 to less than $100,000||Class 4 felony: |
|$100,000 to less than $1,000,000||Class 3 felony: |
|$1,000,000 or more||Class 2 felony: |
3. What are the best defenses?
The best way to fight a Colorado charge of criminal mischief depends on the facts of each case. Common defense strategies include:
- Accident. The defendant damaged the property by accident. The defendant did not act “knowingly.”
- Self-defense. The defendant destroyed the property in a reasonable attempt to protect him/herself or others.5
- Mistaken identity. The defendant was not the one who damaged the property, and someone misidentified him or her.
- False accusations. Someone falsely accused the defendant of destroying the property, perhaps out of anger or revenge or to get a leg up in an ongoing court case.
- No damage. Perhaps the police were mistaken about the property being damaged. Or perhaps it was damaged a while ago, and the defendant had nothing to do with it.
A partial defense to criminal mischief charges is that the property was worth much less than claimed. If successful, this defense could get the charge reduced to a lesser crime level.
4. Can defendants be deported?
Non-citizens convicted of criminal mischief potentially face deportation, especially if it was connected to a domestic violence situation.6 Therefore, immigrants should contact an attorney right away in an attempt to get the charges dismissed or reduced to a non-deportable offense. Learn about the criminal defense of immigrants in Colorado.
5. Can the criminal record get sealed?
Criminal mischief charges that get dismissed may be sealed right away. But if the defendant gets convicted, there is a two-to-three-year waiting period. Class 2- and class 3 felony convictions are unsealable.
Criminal mischief conviction
Waiting period to get record seal in Colorado
|Petty offense||1 year after the case closes|
|Class 3 misdemeanor (as it existed before March 1, 2022) |
Class 2 misdemeanor
|2 years after the case closes|
|Class 1 misdemeanor |
Class 6 felony
Class 5 felony
Class 4 felony
|3 years after the case closes|
|Class 3 felony |
Class 2 felony
6. Related offenses
6.1. Defacing crimes
Colorado law has specific crimes for defacing written instruments, landmarks, posted notices, and other property. Charges range from a civil infraction to a class 1 misdemeanor. Learn more about Colorado defacement laws.8
Arson is intentionally or recklessly setting fire to property. Arson charges are common in cases involving insurance fraud (CRS 18-5-211). It can be a petty offense, misdemeanor or felony depending on:
- the type of property,
- the extent of the damage, or
- the defendant’s motivations.9
Burglary is knowingly entering or unlawfully remaining on someone else’s property with the intent to commit a crime other than trespass. It can be a misdemeanor or a felony. The punishment depends on the type of property and level of danger to anyone inside. People can be convicted of burglary without damaging any property.10
A class 2 misdemeanor, tampering in the first degree is tampering with the property of an institution or utility that provides health or safety protection. Also class 2 misdemeanor, tampering in the second degree is tampering with the another person’s property with the intent to:
- injure, or
Trespass is unlawfully entering or remaining on someone else’s property. Trespass can be prosecuted as:
- first degree,
- second degree, or
- third degree, depending on the circumstances of the case.
- Colorado Revised Statute 18-4-501. Malice is no longer an element of this crime. People v. Woods, (1972) 179 Colo. 441, 501 P.2d 117.
- People v. Dunoyair, (Colo. 1983) 660 P.2d 890; People v. Dobson, (Colo. App. 1992) 847 P.2d 176.
- CRS 18-4-501.
- See CRS 18-6-800.3. Prior to March 1, 2022, criminal mischief resulting in less than $300 worth of damage was a class 3 misdemeanor, carrying up to 6 months in jail and/or $50 to $750 in fines; criminal mischief resulting in $300 to less than $750 worth of damage was a class 2 misdemeanor, carrying 3 to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of $250 to $1,000; criminal mischief resulting in $750 to less than $1,000 worth of damage was a class 1 misdemeanor, carrying 6 to 18 months in jail and/or a fine of $500 to $5,000; and criminal mischief resulting in $1,000 to less than $5,000 worth of damage was a class 6 felony. SB21-271.
- People v. Coahran, (2019) COA 6, 436 P.3d 617; People v. Fuller, (Colo. 1989) 781 P.2d 647.
- 8 USC 1227.
- CRS 24-72-701 – 708.
- CRS 18-4-507 – 510.
- People v. Welborne, (2018) COA 127, — P.3d —; CRS 18-4-102 – 105.
- People v. Cisneros, (1977) 193 Colo. 380, 566 P.2d 703; CRS 18-4-202 – 204.
- CRS 18-4-505.
- CRS 18-4-502 – 504.