Charges of criminal damage can be brought any time something of value is intentionally damaged. In community property states, getting angry and kicking a hole in the wall of your home can lead to charges of criminal damage since legally your spouse owns half of all marital assets. In some instances, property crimes can carry sentences as harsh as those against people, with arson being a particularly serious offense. Generally speaking, criminal damage charges may be brought when the property of another is defaced or damaged or even tampered or altered to the extent that the value or function of the item is impaired.
Potential Sentencing for a Criminal Damage Conviction
Tampering with any property of a utility company can result in criminal damage charges as can graffiti on a public or private building without obtaining the consent of the owner. Sentencing for criminal damage charges is dependent on the value of the damaged or defaced property. As a general guideline, damaging property which is valued at over $10,000 could land you in prison for as long as two-three years and you will have to deal with a felony conviction on your record once you are released.
The prison sentence goes down as the value of the damaged property decreases, although even creating $250 in damages can, under some circumstances, cause you to receive as much as a year in prison. Depending on your state, criminal property damage of less than $250 will probably be classified as a misdemeanor however you could still spend time in jail and wind up with a criminal conviction on your record even though it is a lesser misdemeanor.
Damage to a Utility Company
Regardless of the amount of damage, if you damage property belonging to a utility company you will likely face felony charges and end up in prison should you be convicted. Charges of criminal damage can be upgraded to aggravated criminal damage under the following circumstances:
Charges of Arson
The sentences for aggravated criminal damage increase significantly, and almost always include prison time for a conviction. Any type of arson will result in serious consequences; reckless burning is a criminal damage charge in which a person causes an explosion or recklessly burns something resulting in structural or property damage. When a person knowingly and willfully damages unoccupied property or structure by setting a fire or causing an explosion, then arson may be charged, resulting in two years or more in prison upon conviction. Committing arson in an occupied structure is much more serious and will result in more severe penalties should you be convicted.
Legal Help When You Need It
The term used for criminal damage can vary from state to state and can also include criminal mischief, injury to property, malicious damage or malicious destruction of property, malicious mischief and willful malicious destruction. Whatever the circumstances surrounding your charges of criminal damage it is imperative that you have an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side from start to finish. While you may think your charges are relatively minor, your future could be affected in ways you could not even imagine.
Although the definition of a felony varies—in some cases considerably—from state to state, robbery is almost always considered a violent crime which involves the use of force or the threat of force. Because of this, robbery usually results in felony charges while the lesser crime of theft could be charged as a misdemeanor. The degree of felony resulting from your robbery charges can vary greatly depending on the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime. Most states consider robbery a much more serious felony if a weapon is used to commit the robbery. When a weapon is used in a robbery, the charges usually escalate to aggravated or armed robbery.
If you have prior robbery convictions or even a history of unrelated criminal charges or happen to have been on probation or parole when arrested for robbery, your felony charges may also escalate to a higher class. Some states will also charge the alleged robber with higher levels of felony charges if the robbery was perpetrated on an elderly or disabled person, if it took place in a church or school, or if the robbery resulted in serious bodily injury or the victim of the robbery died. Robbery can result in lengthy prison sentences and serious fines. Even the lesser classes of felony robbery can lead to three or four years in prison in some states, and fifteen in others, and the higher classes of felony robber can lead to as much as forty years in prison. If you rob a bank or engage in the taking of any property belonging to the federal government, robbery charges can be escalated.
Perhaps one of the only ways robbery charges could result in a misdemeanor conviction instead of a felony would be if your criminal defense attorney were able to reach a plea agreement with the prosecutor or could negotiate for a lesser offense charge such as theft or larceny. This is a relatively rare occurrence but could happen if you have no prior criminal background or happened to be a minor at the time of the alleged crime. Although shoplifting is generally charged as theft or larceny—a misdemeanor charge—should you resist arrest after being caught shoplifting, the misdemeanor could quickly turn into a felony charge.
There have even been cases in which a shoplifter was attempting to flee after being caught shoplifting, then collided with a store security officer as they ran. The misdemeanor charges in this instance were bumped up to felony charges. As odd as this may sound, since the charges of robbery include the use or threat of force, then should bodily injury be inflicted—even unwittingly—when fleeing from a theft, then the district attorney may choose to charge you with robbery.
Many people become confused over the distinction between robbery and burglary. Burglary involves an illegal entry into a building with the intent of taking property which does not belong to you. Robbery requires the element of a victim whom you threaten with force or intimidation as you steal their property. Make sure you have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney on your side as soon as you are charged with the crime of robbery and you may be able to have the charges dismissed altogether or at least plead to a lesser misdemeanor crime.
Should you have the urge to take another person’s vehicle without their express permission, be aware you could be charged with grand theft auto. There are many levels of grand theft auto, all the way from the premeditated taking of the automobile of another to the act of joyriding with the intent of returning the car. In some states, simply being in a car you are aware is stolen could also result in grand theft auto charges. In most states the vehicle taken or “borrowed,” must have a minimal worth such as $300 or $400 in order for the more serious charges of grand theft auto to be brought.
Most all states consider taking a vehicle a felony, although should you possess a perfectly clean record or are a juvenile you might slide by with a misdemeanor charge. Should you be convicted of grand theft auto it is likely you will spend some time in jail or even in prison, possibly even longer than a year. Serious fines, driver’s license suspension, community service, large fees and fines and probation can result from a conviction of grand theft auto. Successive convictions for this offense will end up in more severe penalties and in “three-strike” states the stakes are especially high should your charges result in a conviction.
Defenses to Grand Theft Auto
Even your first felony conviction can have far-reaching consequences, making you ineligible for certain jobs or professions, making it difficult for you to rent or buy a home, obtain a government loan for higher education or housing and causing you to be unable to obtain a professional license you may have worked long and hard for. Being charged with grand theft auto is extremely serious, and there are few defenses other than owner’s consent and intent. If your attorney can show you had consent from the owner to take the car and never intended to permanently deprive the owner of their vehicle, then the prosecutor may not be able to charge you with grand theft auto.
Moreover, in order for the prosecutor to definitively prove charges of grand theft auto against you, he or she must be able to show intent on your part to permanentlydeprive the owner of their vehicle, however further charges can be tacked on under certain circumstances. For instance if you broke into the car in order to take it, you could also be charged with auto burglary. If you broke into a garage to take the car, you could be charged with burglary and if you used force or the threat of violence against the owner in order to take the car you could be charged with robbery or carjacking.
Your criminal defense attorney might be able to have your charges lessened to Unlawful Taking or Driving of a Vehicle (also known as joyriding) which carries much less severe punishments. Your attorney might also be able to show that improper police procedures were used at the time of your arrest in order to have your charges of grand theft auto reduced or even dismissed. Retaining a knowledgeable attorney is your number one priority once you have been charged with grand theft auto in order to get the help you need.
If you have a felony conviction on your record, particularly if the offense occurred long ago, you may wonder how long the felony will remain on your record and whether there is anything you can do which will decrease that time. The first thing you must consider is the state you reside in as the laws regarding how long a conviction remains on your record varies considerably. Whether your conviction was a misdemeanor or felony will have some bearing on how long the conviction will remain on your record as well as the type of crime you were convicted of.
Expunging Your Criminal Record
In general to get rid of charges, arrests, the dates of court appearances and convictions—whether misdemeanor or felony— you will have to petition the court to have the records expunged. The petition to have these records expunged will have to go through the court/jurisdiction in which the original crime was prosecuted. In these days of computer technology, criminal records are freely shared from one law enforcement agency to another. While your criminal record is technically a public record, this doesn’t mean that just anybody can gain access to those records. Potential employers have the right to check into your criminal history providing you sign a consent form—and those who refuse to sign the consent will be unlikely to get the job. A deceased person’s criminal record is open to the public.
Requirements for Having Your Criminal Record Expunged
While misdemeanors and minor offenses are somewhat simple to have removed from your criminal record, there are a number of requirements you must meet in order to have more serious felony charges and convictions removed. The court will take into consideration such factors as: the time between the original incident and your request, whether you are currently under investigation for any criminal offenses, how many prior convictions you have on your record, whether you were convicted of another offense during the waiting period after you have filed for expungement, whether you have successfully completed the original sentencing terms or served your time and whether your probation period was without further criminal incident. The court is looking to see that you are a fully rehabilitated person before considering your request to expunge your record.
Results of Expunging Your Record
Should the court agree to expunge your records, then all charges against you, every court file pertaining to your case, your arrest record and your conviction will all be erased from public record. Remember, a guilty or no-contest plea remains on your criminal record regardless. Once a criminal record is expunged, it only ceases to exist at the local and state level. The FBI will still be able to access your entire criminal record meaning even many years down the road, after you have paid your debt to society and had your criminal record expunged, should you apply for a governmental job your criminal history will be visible at this level.
In short, felony convictions are forever unless you take steps to have your criminal record expunged. That felony conviction could cost you a job, take away your voting privileges in some states, restrict your ability to hold public office or obtain security clearance for specific professions, prohibit your obtaining a passport or visa, prevent you from owning a firearm, prevent you from obtaining federal funding for college and can even cause you to be pulled into police lineups as a potential suspect. It is extremely important that you hire a highly qualified criminal defense attorney to help you with your petition to expunge your criminal record in order to lessen some of the lifelong consequences of your criminal record.