I represented a client last night in the Morristown Municipal Court who was charged with criminal mischief in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3. Criminal mischief can be graded as a third degree, fourth degree, or disorderly persons offense in New Jersey depending on the circumstances of the alleged offense and the amount of the damage done. In this case, my client was charged with a disorderly persons offense because the damage done was $500.00 or less.
My client had no prior criminal history. A disorderly persons offense in New Jersey, if convicted, leads to a $1,000.00 fine and up to six (6) months in the county jail. In this case, my client was out in Morristown, had a few drinks, and lost his keys. When he came back to his apartment building he broke the window to his apartment so that he could get inside from the cold and go to bed. However, it turned out that he broke the window to his next door neighbors apartment and ended up in the wrong apartment. My client paid for the window to be fixed and apologized to both the police and his neighbor. His neighbor did not want to press charges and I was able to convince the prosecutor and the judge to dismiss the criminal mischief charge against him. In fact, the State would have had a difficult time proving criminal mischief because the “mens rea” or state of mind element of the criminal offense was not present. When my client broke the window he thought he was breaking his own window so he could enter his own apartment. To break your own window is not criminal mischief. However, I was able to avoid that issue at trial and the case was dismissed against my client.