When a prank is not a prank: Criminal mischief and graffiti

Legal background

Perhaps you've heard the expression "Boys will be boys," which roughly means "Boys are expected to be irresponsible or boisterous." Perhaps girls, too. This expression is frequently applied to the pranks of school students. But when is a prank not a prank? When is it considered more serious, perhaps criminally serious?

In Texas, a crime involving property damage may result in a charge of criminal mischief if the state believes that you intentionally made graffiti or other marks on someone else's property. The Texas Penal Code specifically provides that the crime of criminal mischief is committed if a person, "without the effective consent of the owner . . . intentionally or knowingly makes markings, including inscriptions, slogans, drawings, or paintings, on the tangible property of the owner."

This crime has several classifications, from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, based on the factual circumstances and the property damage value.

Indictment for juvenile vandalism

One example of the use of graffiti leading to criminal charges occurred in March of 2013, when a mother who lived in Colleyville was indicted for criminal mischief, the indictment alleging that in September of 2012 she led a number of juveniles from a middle school to Wal-Mart, where they purchased supplies, then later engaged in several pranks on a local residence, including making graffiti on walls and leaving raw chicken inside a mailbox, resulting in approximately $6,000 in damages. The mother faced up to a two-year jail sentence, with a fine of $10,000.

According to police reports, officers came to the home in question in the early morning hours and found toilet paper covering the entire residence. They also found the mailbox stuffed with raw chicken, and a toilet in the driveway with the words "suck it" on it.

The arrest complaint, according to the Daily Mail, noted that offensive words ("whore house," "sluts," "CMS jokes") were written on the outside walls of the house in "sharpie" ink in various handwriting styles. "Sluts" was also written in mustard on the circle driveway.

The woman who lived at the vandalized house stated she was putting on a slumber party for her daughter and saw a boy looking over a fence watching them. The boy was chased by the girls at the party to the house of the accused mother, which was located some blocks away.

The accused mother refused to plead guilty and decided to contest the charges. The mother's attorney claimed that she was not even there during the vandalism incident. As quoted in the Star Telegram, he said: "She was innocent. She had nothing to do with it[.] She took the kids to Wal-Mart. That's not against the law. She bought toilet paper. We're not going to argue that issue, but I could go buy 6,000 rolls of toilet paper. It's not against the law to buy toilet paper. But she was not present when the house was marked up."

Conclusion

Pranks involving graffiti and other activities are not always considered "mere pranks" and may result in criminal charges. There may be defenses to such charges, including the important one of "I wasn't there; I didn't participate," so it is important if you are faced with this situation to immediately contact and experienced criminal defense attorney, who will investigate the facts and provide you with the best defense possible.