Criminal Damage Charge
We have seen people charged with criminal damage after allegedly damaging property in extremely minor and major cases, ranging from a broken dinner plate all the way up to crashing through a home.
What are the penalties for criminal damage charges in Arizona? Is Criminal Damage a Felony or Misdemeanor?
Penalties for criminal damage convictions in Arizona vary great deal and depend upon the dollar amount of damage caused. Subsection B of the statute details the specifics:
- Damages over $10,000 to property of a person – Class 4 Felony (or damages over $5,000 to property of a utility company is also a Class 4 Felony)
- Damages over $2,000 but less than $10,000 to property of a person – Class 5 Felony
- Damages over $1,000 but less than $2,000 to property of a person – Class 6 Felony
- Damages over $250 but less than $1,000 to property of a person – Class 1 Misdemeanor
- Damages less than $250 – Class 2 Misdemeanor
The amount of damage that is alleged is calculated by looking at what it costs to:
- Replace the item
- Repair the property
- Labor required to repair the property
- Material costs for repair
- Costs of equipment needed to be used for repairs
- Other factors
Valuation of the property that is claimed to have been damaged can be very important in determining the classification of the crime that is alleged.
For example, if there is property that has been damaged valued at approximately $1,000, the true valuation could determine whether that crime is charged as a Class 6 Felony or a Class 1 Misdemeanor.
If the property is valued at $1,100 the proper classification would be a class 6 felony, where as if it were actually valued at $900 the proper classification would be as a class 1 misdemeanor.
The consequences are vastly different between the two, showing why this true valuation is important.
In these scenarios, it may be critical to consult with external appraisers or outside expert witnesses to discuss the true value of the property or what the actual cost of repair or replacement will be in the case.
This argument is one type of defense method of reducing the charge to the lowest classification possible.
In our experience, however, the vast majority of cases filed in Arizona are misdemeanors, will valuation being less than $1,000, and the goal is not to reduce the allegation from a felony to a misdemeanor but to beat the case entirely.
What are the criminal damage laws in Arizona?
This is how the statute, A.R.S. 13-1602 defines what constitutes criminal damage in Arizona:
A person commits criminal damage by:
- Recklessly defacing or damaging property of another person.
- Recklessly tampering with property of another person so as substantially to impair its function or value.
- Recklessly damaging property of a utility.
- Recklessly parking any vehicle in such a manner as to deprive livestock of access to the only reasonably available water.
- Recklessly drawing or inscribing a message, slogan, sign or symbol that is made on any public or private building, structure or surface, except the ground, and that is made without permission of the owner.
- Intentionally tampering with utility property.
As might be evident, subsection 1 and 2 are by far the most common types of charges we see. This usually occurs as a result of an accident or after an altercation when property is caught in the middle.
We usually see these types of allegations when a cell phone is broken, when furniture is damaged, or when a hole, scratch, bend or scrap is put into a wall, hole, or car.
Charges are filed under subsection 3 most often when there is a vehicle involved that hits a light pole, transformer box, gas line, etc.
The other subsections, 4, 5, and 6, are rarely charged relative to the others.
What are defenses in a criminal damage case?
The best defenses in a criminal case center around either intent or causation, and we will discuss them both here.
First, as you can see in the statute, the law says that a person must act “recklessly” and cause damage.
“Reckless” Criminal Damage
What type of act is “reckless” or what constitutes a person acting recklessly?
Generally, recklessness is defined as being a gross deviation from traditionally accepted norms. But even that concept is vague and open to interpretation.
For example, in the case where there is a legitimate accident, like when it rains and a vehicle hydroplanes or when a person trips in a crowded bar and knocks over a table, is that reckless?
Most would agree that it is not. However, we have seen people charged under these circumstances.
In these scenarios, it is important to do a thorough review of the case, conduct interviews with police and witnesses, and review any other evidence like video recordings or 911 calls to determine what actually happened.
In many situations, it can be shown that the conduct the act itself was not done recklessly, but was done purely accidentally. In other words, it was not a deviation from the societal accepted norms.
This is a very case specific type of analysis that must be done on an individual basis.
No Causation for the Criminal Damage
Another common successful defense is to show that the person who is claimed to have caused the damage is not the true cause of the damage.
We see these types of situations arise frequently in bars, clubs, sporting events and other outings.
What often happens is an altercation or a dispute occurs, property is damaged, and bar owners, bouncers or other patrons erroneously identify who they believe to be culprit.
In reality, evidence to prove that the person they are claiming caused the damage is weak at best.
For example, let’s say there is a crowd of people at a local concert and something happens to caused commotion.
There is physical contact in the crowd, and Bob bumps into Charlie, causing Charlie to drop and shatter his cell phone.
The establishment owners flag the police, who arrive and decide to arrest the first people they see. Unfortunately, Bob gets caught up in the ordeal and is arrested.
The police are presuming that Bob was the actual cause of the damage.
In reality, after completing interviews, reviewing the victim’s background, securing surveillance video and reviewing body camera footage, it becomes clear that Bob was not the actual cause of the damage, nor was he acting reckless.
In reality, Bob was also the victim of the commotion, and was bumped himself by Adam, as can be seen in the footage. Adam is no where to be found, but it becomes clear that Bob’s conduct in absorbing the contact and falling into Charlie was neither reckless nor was he the actual cause of the damage.
This example is of course very simplified, but the general principles remain. The government has a high burden to show that the person alleged of criminal damage is the actual cause of the damage itself.
What if I admitted to the criminal damage?
This is an important question, and one that needs to be reviewed on a case by case basis.
In criminal law, there are very extensive rules that center around a concept known as “hearsay.”
In short, this means that certain statements that were made outside of court cannot come into court, while other statements can come into court.
In criminal damage situations, a major issue is whether certain statements, such as your admission, can come into court and be used against you.
There are many scenarios where they cannot come into court, even though you told the officer that something happened that resulted in criminal damage.
In our experience, many prosecutors do not attempt to use these types of statements against you without other corroborating witnesses.
Often times, the police do not have any documented evidence they can use to verify your statements, and officers themselves can be subject to impeachment.
It is similar to the “he-said / she-said” idea.
How can the officer prove you said what you said, or is the officer’s testimony about your conversation exaggerated, misinterpreted or flat out false?
These are important questions that can cause a substantial amount of debt and result in a not guilty verdict in a criminal damage case.
So, just because you may have “admitted” to causing some sort of damage, does not mean that you should be worried that nothing can be done in your case.
In reality, the police use coercive and manipulative tactics to take the things you say totally out of context.