When Can You Be Charged With Criminal Damage?
What Counts As Criminal Damage?
Essentially, you will receive this charge if you intentionally or recklessly damage property. It is most commonly damage to cars and windows, regularly it will have something to do with revenge.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be permanent damage. Examples of criminal damage cases include graffiti, water-soluble paints on a pavement and squashing a policeman’s helmet.
It will be considered as damage if action or expense is needed to put the action straight, an example might be creating crop circles in a field of wheat.
The court will decide wether something is damaged or to what degree it is damaged by examining all of the circumstances.
What if it is my property?
It would only be considered unlawful damage if there was damage done to a joint property and not property owned by one person. Smashing up a family home in a rage would usually be considered an offence.
What if it was an accident?
The line between accident and recklessness can be a fine one. To prove recklessness, the court should be sure that you were aware that there was a risk the property would be damaged, and, in the circumstances, it wasn’t reasonable for you to take that risk.
The offence could be committed if you are reckless or you are intending to cause damage. Intent is simply that you committed the damage on purpose (although in legal terms it is slightly more complex than this).
Is there a defence?
Whether the offence has occurred relies on damage being caused with no “lawful excuse”. If you believed you had consent to cause the damage then you would have lawful excuse. Another example would be if you thought you were protecting your own property or that belonging to someone else. Your actions would have to be reasonable in all the circumstances. It is your belief that is important so if it is honestly held it may not matter if the belief is not justified.
Causing damage just because you are drunk will not form either defence nor mitigation.
Where will I be dealt with?
In cases where the value involved is no more than £5,000 then the offence will be dealt with in the magistrates’ court. When there is more than one offence of damage the total of the damages will be used to calculate whether the offence is £5,000 or less. The court will determine the total value of the damage in deciding whether they are supposed to deal with the case.
There are different considerations applied when the damage is caused by arson (fire).
Is there a time limit on prosecution?
Even though certain offences can only be dealt with in the magistrates’ court the six-month time period for prosecution does not apply.
What sentence will I get?
Minor damage such as breaking a small window is likely to result in a fine or conditional discharge. Significant damage up to £5,000 caused as part of a spree can lead to a community order or custody of up to three months.
The higher the value, the more likely imprisonment will be imposed, the maximum sentence at the crown court is ten years.
In appropriate cases we will work hard to have your case diverted away from the criminal justice system, an early apology and offer of compensation can sometimes be enough to avoid a criminal case.
If you find yourself charged with Criminal Damage offences then we can help you from representation at the Police Station to if you need to appear in court. Call us on 0161 477 1121 or email us for more information.