Your Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney request your free consultation

Phoenix Criminal Damages Lawyer

Have you been arrested on criminal damage charges in Arizona? Depending on the circumstances, you could receive either a misdemeanor or a felony criminal charge. Your future is at stake, so don’t hesitate to contact the experienced Phoenix criminal damages defense lawyers at Orent Law Offices for immediate legal assistance.

We offer a free consultation, so give our Phoenix law offices a call or reach out to us online to schedule yours today.

What is Criminal Damage?

Arizona’s law regarding criminal damage is found in ARS § 13-1602. The law states that you may be charged with this crime if you “recklessly” deface, damage, or tamper with property belonging to someone else.

The same offense would apply if you recklessly impair the property’s function or value. Note that this includes damaging the property of a utility company, such as tampering with a telephone pole.

Criminal damage also includes graffiti. Graffiti involves inscribing a message, slogan, sign, or symbol on any public or private building or structure without the permission of the owner. However, graffiti does not include performing the same actions to non-structures, such as the ground.

The law also applies in one other unique circumstance. Specifically, it’s illegal to recklessly park your car in a way that deprives livestock of access to the only reasonably available water source.

Recklessness and Your Criminal Damage Charges

In order for you to be convicted of criminal damage, the prosecution must prove its case against you. This requires the prosecutor to show that you acted recklessly. Recklessness means that you knew or should have known that your actions were likely to result in damage to the property.

Note that recklessness is easier to prove than actual intent. This is because the prosecution does not need to show that you actually tried to damage the property. However, the standard is higher than simple carelessness or making a mistake.

For example, if you were walking into a store and tripped over the entryway causing you to knock over and break a vase, this would likely not be criminal damage. Here, there is no indication that you should have known your actions would have led to property damage.

By contrast, if you were intoxicated and jumping around excitedly and, as a result, fell into the vase, this could be considered reckless behavior. Here, you should have known that your behavior could lead to property damage.

As you might imagine, these cases depend greatly on the circumstances. The court will consider whether the risk you took with your behavior was reasonable, and whether or not you knew that your actions had a high risk of harm.

Keep in mind that while we have been focusing on the reasonableness standard for property damage, intentionally harming a person’s belongings also falls under the definition of reckless behavior. So, for example, if you were mad at someone and decided to key their car, this would clearly be considered criminal damage.

Penalties for Criminal Damage

The penalties for criminal damage typically depend on the value of the property you damaged. Value is determined according to the reasonable cost of repair. Repair includes labor, material costs, and cost to use equipment necessary for repair. If the property is completely destroyed, value is based on the item’s replacement cost.

Class 4 Felony

With that in mind, if the amount of damages is in excess of $10,000, the crime is considered a class 4 felony. A class 4 felony is punishable by a maximum of:

  • 3 years in an Arizona state prison, and
  • 4 years probation.

Note that a class 4 felony also applies if the incident involves utility property worth over $5,000, or if you intentionally tamper with any utility property and cause a safety hazard.

Class 5 Felony

If the damage is between $2,000 and $10,000, the crime is charged as a class 5 felony. A class 5 felony conviction carries a maximum sentence of:

  • 2 years in an Arizona state prison, and
  • 3 years probation.

Class 6 Felony

For property valued between $1,000 and $2,000, the crime is classified as a class 6 felony. Penalties for a class 6 felony conviction can include:

  • Up to 1.5 years in prison, and
  • 3 years probation.

Class 1 Misdemeanor

If the damage is between $250 and $1,000, the crime is considered a class 1 misdemeanor. A conviction can result in penalties including:

  • 6 months in a Maricopa County jail
  • $2,500 in fines, and
  • 3 years probation.

Class 2 Misdemeanor

For all other cases, the state classifies the crime as a class 2 misdemeanor, which is punishable by:

  • 4 months in a Maricopa County jail
  • $750 in fines, and
  • 2 years probation.

It’s important to note that your sentence may be increased if you have priors. For example, if you have three convictions on your record, you could face up to 12 years in prison for a class 4 felony.

Aggravated Criminal Damage

Keep in mind that the more serious charge of aggravated criminal damage can apply in certain cases. This offense occurs when you act intentionally or recklessly and without the permission of the owner and deface, damage, or tamper with any of the following:

  • A building, structure, or personal property used for any religious purpose
  • A building, structure, or place used as an educational facility
  • A cemetery, mortuary, or any personal property used to bury or memorialize the dead
  • Agricultural property, or
  • Construction sites used to obtain “nonferrous metals.”

As an aggravated charge, you’ll be subject to harsher penalties.

Penalties for Aggravated Criminal Damage

The penalties for aggravated criminal damage depend both on the value and nature of the property.

Specifically, if the total damage is over $10,000 to the first three property types listed above, the crime is considered a class 4 felony. If the property is agricultural or construction-related and is valued at over $10,000, the crime is considered a class 3 felony.

Next, the crime is considered a class 5 felony if the damage is to the first three property types listed above and the total value is between $1,500 and $10,000. If the property is agricultural or construction-related and is valued at over $1,500 and $10,000, the crime is considered a class 4 felony.

In all other cases involving the first three property types listed above, the crime is considered a class 6 felony. All other cases involving agricultural or construction-related property is considered a class 5 felony.

Restitution in Criminal Damage Cases

Committing a crime against someone’s property can also result in you being ordered to pay restitution. These are amounts paid to the victim and meant to cover all economic losses that resulted from the property damage. In most cases, this would be the cost to replace or restore the property.

However, in some cases, there are additional economic losses. An example would be if you damaged a storefront and the owner was unable to open for business for several days. In this situation, you may have to pay for lost profits during the period when the store was closed.

If you are unable to pay restitution amounts all at once, the court may instead order monthly installments. Note that if you are incarcerated, the state is allowed to withdraw 20-50% out of your inmate spending account. These accounts hold wages earned in prison along with any contributions from friends or family.

Keep in mind that, unlike other debts, restitution cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Further, if you fail to pay restitution, your probation may be extended up to 5 years.

Defenses to Criminal Damages

It’s important to note that not all instances of property damage are considered criminal. This means that you have certain legal defenses available to you which could result in your charges being dismissed. For this reason, it’s helpful to have an attorney evaluate your case.

You Own the Property

One defense is that you own the property that was damaged. Legally you can’t be charged with criminally damaging property you own. However, you could be charged for damaging jointly owned or community property. This might be the case, for example, if you share ownership of a vehicle with your spouse.

You Had Permission to Damage the Property

Another defense is that you had permission to damage the property. An example would be if you were asked to demolish a structure, and the owner subsequently called the police. Finally, remember, your actions are only considered criminal if they were either intentional or reckless. If you can prove that the damage was the result of an accident, your charges would be dismissed.

The Property Hasn’t Been Valued Properly

Now, while you may not have a defense to damaging the property, you may disagree with the valuation. This is incredibly important when it comes to sentencing and should not be taken lightly. For that reason, if you believe you have evidence that disputes the valuation claim, it should be submitted to the court.

Violations of Your Constitutional Rights

As with all other criminal charges, violation of your constitutional rights may also act as a criminal damage defense. For example, if you were the victim of an illegal search and seizure or you were not properly read your Miranda rights, this could keep out certain key evidence that the prosecution needs to prove its case.

Contact Our Phoenix Criminal Damage Defense Attorneys

If you are charged with misdemeanor or felony criminal damage, you have the right to have a Phoenix criminal attorney represent you. Here at Orent Law Offices, PLC, we have over 30 years of experience in criminal law, including criminal damage cases. These cases can be quite complex and we will work hard to evaluate your case and put together a strong defense. Call our Phoenix, Arizona law firm today for a free consultation.