Colorado law defines criminal mischief in CRS 18-4-501 as knowingly damaging or destroying another person’s land or personal property. The offense can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the extent of the property damage.
Common defenses to criminal mischief charges are that the incident was an accident, or that the defendant was falsely accused.
CRS 18-4-501 states:
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.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is criminal mischief in Colorado?
- 2. What is the criminal 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. What is criminal mischief in Colorado?
Criminal mischief is 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.
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 criminal 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||Class 3 misdemeanor:
|$300 to less than $750||Class 2 misdemeanor:
|$750 to less than $1,000||Class 1 misdemeanor:
|$1,000 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 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. And class 2- and class 3 felony convictions are unsealable.
Criminal mischief conviction
Waiting period to get record seal in Colorado
|Class 3 misdemeanor
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 class 1 petty offense 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 misdemeanor or a 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 is always 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 1 misdemeanor, tampering in the first degree is tampering with the property of an institution or utility that provides health or safety protection. A class 2 misdemeanor, tampering in the second degree is tampering with the another’s property with the intent to annoy, injure, or inconvenience.11
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 circumstances of the case.
Our criminal defense lawyers create attorney-client relationships throughout the state of Colorado, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Greeley, Broomfield, Aurora, Lakewood, Greenwood Village, Jefferson County, Thornton, Westminster, and more. We fight for the best possible outcome in every type of criminal case, such as DUI, child abuse, theft crimes, drug offenses, and more.
Arrested in California? Read our article on California vandalism laws (Penal Code 594 PC).
Arrested in Nevada? Read our article on Nevada vandalism laws (NRS 206.310).
Disclaimer: Past results do not guarantee future results.
- 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.
- 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.