Property Crime Defenses

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 What Is a Property Crime?

Attorneys often receive questions about property crimes and property crime defenses. Generally speaking, property crime involves the theft or destruction of property belonging to another person.

Misdemeanor property crimes usually result in criminal fines and a short jail sentence.
However, theft or damage to more valuable property can result in felony charges. Property crimes committed with deadly weapons can also result in felony charges.

Although property crimes are usually considered misdemeanor crimes (i.e., meaning that they result in criminal fines or a short jail sentence), they can be raised to the level of a felony offense if they are committed in connection with the use of a deadly weapon.

A victim of a property crime may also be able to seek civil remedies. They may be able to recover any damages caused to their real or personal property as a result of the alleged property crime.

Depending on the facts of the case, there may also be defenses available to a defendant against charges involving property crimes. Property crimes may be defended by mistake, coercion, or public or private necessity.

Although they sometimes overlap, property crimes are generally different from crimes related to criminal damage to property. As a general rule, property crimes are more like theft, while criminal damage to property crimes normally involve physical damage to real property (for example, a house).

What Are Some Examples of Property Crimes?

In addition to the theft of property, property crimes can include:

It is not uncommon for property crimes to occur in conjunction with other crimes. An altercation or fight often results in property damage in assault and battery cases.

What Are Property Crimes Involving Theft?

Any instance of theft, including larceny, robbery, embezzlement, and false pretenses, is considered theft. These offenses can either be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the jurisdiction and the amount of property stolen.

What Are Structure-Property Crimes?

Structure crimes include arson, burglary, and vandalism because they cause damage to real property rather than personal property. Depending on the jurisdiction and the extent of the damage caused to the property involved, structure crimes may also be charged as felonies or misdemeanors.

What Are Some Environmental Offenses That Can Be Considered Property Crimes?

The term “environmental violation” refers to an act that harms the environment or threatens the general public’s health. Various state statutes and federal laws regulate environmental issues, such as pollution, land use, building projects, and toxic substances. Local ordinances further regulate zoning, planning, or other types of land use.

A violation of environmental law may allow citizens to sue for damages caused to the environment in some cases.

Are There Specific Types of Criminal Damage to Property?

There are many different kinds of damage that can be inflicted on property.

The following are some examples of malicious or intentional damage:

  • Defacing another person’s property with spray paint;
  • Egging someone’s car or house;
  • Taking paint off another person’s car by keying it;
  • Slashing the tires of another person’s car;
  • Doing wheelies on someone else’s front yard and ruining their lawn;
  • Inflicting damage with hands or feet.

The crime of arson is a kind of criminal damage to property that involves damage caused by a fire that is set intentionally or by the use of explosives. In most states, however, arson is considered a much more serious crime than general property damage.

A conviction for arson can result in up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $50,000, depending on the extent of the damage.

What Are the Penalties for Criminal Damage to Property?

Criminal property damage is governed by state law. In most states, the penalties depend on whether the crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Whether a crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony is often determined by the cost of repairing the damage caused by the crime.

For damage under $2,000 in South Carolina, it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $1,000 in fines or 30 days in jail.

If the property damage is between $2,000 and $10,000, the crime is charged as a felony and a fine of up to and no more than five years in state prison is the punishment.

Damages exceeding $10,000 are punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine. It is up to the sentencing judge to determine how much the fine should be.

In Illinois, if the damage to the property is less than $300, the crime is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

If the value of the property damage is over $300 and up to $10,000, the crime is a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Property damage between $10,001 and $100,000 is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in state prison or a fine of up to $25,000. In the case of damage to property valued over $100,000, the crime is a felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Remember that a sentence of jail time is served in the jail in the city or county where the defendant was arrested. State penitentiaries are where prisoners serve their prison terms. The two are different.

When a person intentionally damages or destroys the real or personal property of another, the prosecutor may file charges for willful destruction of property or malicious destruction of property.

The willful, malicious destruction of (or injury to or defacement of) another person’s property is a misdemeanor in Maryland. Up to 60 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500 can be imposed for damages less than $1,000. A fine of up to $2,500 and up to 3 years in state prison may be imposed if the damage exceeds $1,000.

Although states use different language to describe crimes and punishment schemes, the basic concept remains the same.

What Are Some Property Crime Defenses?

In some cases, defenses to property crimes may be available depending on the nature of the case.

The following are some common property crime defenses:

  • Necessity: It can sometimes be argued that the destruction of property is necessary under certain emergency situations. For example, a person might need to break a window to escape a fire or other danger.
  • Coercion: It may be a defense if the defendant was forced to steal or damage property under the threat of harm, injury, or death.
  • Mistake: For most theft crimes, you need criminal intent in order to be found guilty. If you took something by mistake because you thought it was yours, it might be a defense.

Of course, property crime defenses depend on each case’s facts and state laws.

What Is the Best Way to Defend Myself Against Property Crimes?

Criminal laws are often intricately woven into property crime defenses. You may need to hire a criminal defense lawyer for assistance with your claim if you’re facing charges. A lawyer can represent you in court and guide you throughout the legal process. Additionally, your lawyer can help you determine what legal defenses may apply to your case.


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