Criminal mischief can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the dollar amount of damage caused to the alleged victim's property.
In the State of Florida, if you intentionally damage the property of another in the amount of $1,000 or more, your crime is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in state prison.
From $200 up to $999.99, the crime is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in county jail.
For $0 up to $199.99, the crime is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in county jail.
A second-degree misdemeanor is the default mechanism for the prosecution. That means that if they cannot prove the dollar amount beyond a reasonable doubt, you can be convicted of that crime because there is no requirement that the dollar amount be proven.
But for first-degree misdemeanor and third-degree felony convictions, the State Attorney must prove the dollar amount of damage.
This can be done a number of ways.
An estimate can be introduced by the prosecutor, provided they list the essential witness or witnesses who can authenticate the document. An alleged victim whose car is vandalized cannot testify to the contents of a repair estimate issued to them by a mechanic. Only the mechanic or an employee with knowledge of how the estimate was comprised can testify to such a document.
An alleged victim cannot testify to what they were told was the amount of damage. For instance, if an alleged victim is told by a mechanic that it will be $1,500 to repair their damaged car, the alleged victim could not testify to that in court because that would be inadmissible hearsay.
However, it is my experience that prosecutors commonly fail to list essential witnesses yet still charge the accused with a crime that requires proof of monetary damage.
Jurors can rely on common sense, however, in determining the value of damage. If a house is severely vandalized, a juror can rely on their life experience and common sense to conclude that a home repair would cost more than $1,000.
If the alleged victim has actually repaired the damage themselves, they can testify as to how much it cost them. The jury must then conclude whether that amount fairly reflects the amount of the damage caused by the accused.
As you can see, it is not a black and white issue. If charged with criminal mischief, be it misdemeanor or felony, it is important that your criminal defense attorney be able to spot these issues that could result in the charges being reduced.
Eric Matheny is a Miami criminal mischief attorney and Broward criminal mischief attorney.