Halloween is about trick-or-treating and scarfing down way too much candy. But when does too much fun become criminal?
Harmless Pranks or Misdemeanors & Felonies?
Smashing Pumpkins – This common prank usually just upsets those who devoted their time to carving the pumpkins. But if you smash the pumpkin of another, and are caught by law enforcement, you run the risk of being charged with theft or criminal mischief.
Theft is committed if you unlawfully “appropriate” the property of another, with intent to “deprive the owner of property.” Criminal mischief applies when you “intentionally or knowingly” damage someone else’s “tangible property,” or otherwise tamper with it. You don’t actually need to take the pumpkin anywhere. If you smash it, you are intentionally damaging it and depriving the owner of his or her ability to enjoy it. A criminal charge in such cases can range from a Class C misdemeanor (if the value of the pumpkin was less than $100) to a state jail felony (if it was an award-winning pumpkin valued at more than $2,500). Criminal Mischief can also be charged by establishing that the actor intentionally damaged the property of another.
Ding Dong Ditching Billy Madison Style – Otherwise known as placing a paper bag filled with solid excrement (usually of the canine variety) on someone’s doorstep, lighting it on fire, and ringing the doorbell. This prank could lead to a criminal mischief charge if the you cause property damage due to the negligent use of fire. Indeed, if the fire spreads from the bag to the doormat or the porch, you may be guilty of criminal mischief. As with the smashing pumpkins scenario, if the doormat or other property damaged was worth less than $100, you are looking at a Class C misdemeanor charge. Even smashing gum/soft substances into keyholes of the doors can result in a fine and having to pay for lock and key replacement.
That may not sound too bad, but consider that if you intentionally set any kind of fire, even as a “Halloween prank,” you can also be charged with arson, which Section 28.02 of the Texas Penal Code defines as starting a fire “with intent to destroy or damage any building, habitation, or vehicle” that you know belongs to someone else. Arson involving a “habitation”–i.e., someone’s house–is classified as a first-degree felony in Texas. This means a ding dong ditch could, in theory, send you to prison for a minimum of 5 years (and possibly the rest of your life).
Toilet Papering Your Neighbor’s House – Covering someone’s house in toilet paper has become a popular prank not just at Halloween time, but also following celebratory events like a high school graduation or winning an important sports contest. For instance, Chicago hockey fans famously TP’d their coach’s house after winning the Stanley Cup in 2015. But when the homeowner doesn’t appreciate such “festive” decorating of their property, you can find yourself in significant legal trouble.
While there are no specific laws in Texas prohibiting toilet papering, it can be charged as criminal mischief. You can also be liable for [criminal trespass] under Section 30.05 of the Penal Code if the owner had a “No Trespassing” sign posted or ordered you to leave the property prior to the toilet papering began. Criminal trespass is normally a Class B misdemeanor, but the charge may be elevated to Class A if the act occurs “in a habitation.”
Also note that a parent may be liable if they assist their children (or their friends) with a toilet paper prank. In 2013 a grand jury in Tarrant County indicted a Coleyville mother for criminal mischief after she was seen “purchasing more than 100 rolls of toilet paper with a group of children the night before” a local house was covered in toilet paper and other items, allegedly causing more than $6,000 in property damage.
Egging a House, Car, or Person – Similar to toilet papering but potentially more hazardous–and certainly more smelly–is the time-honored practice of egging a house, car, and in many cases even a person. The truth is that eggs are best used in an omelet, not as part of a prank. Egging can do serious damage and open you up to civil as well as criminal lawsuits.
Consider what might happen if you and your friends decide to egg that really nice Mercedes parked out on the street. In addition to the dents caused by the smashed egg shells, the chemicals in the egg whites and yolks can damage the car’s paint job. Let’s say it costs the owner $1,000 to repaint the entire car. At that level of damage, you are looking at a Class A misdemeanor, a few steps up from the Class C misdemeanor for smashing that pumpkin we discussed earlier. The owner can also seek civil damages against you–or your parents, if you are a minor–which can also lead to an award of attorney’s fees and court costs.
Similarly, if you decide to egg a person, the victim could turn around and press criminal charges for assault. That may sound excessive, but Section 22.01 of the Penal Code defines assault as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” causing “bodily injury to another.” And if you think an egg does not cause bodily injury, consider there have been cases where people were blinded by egging attacks.
What Penalties Do I Face If I’m Arrested for a Prank?
In this article we have referenced various classes of misdemeanors. But what are the actual consequences when a Halloween prank turns into a criminal charge? Here is a brief rundown of the sentencing possibilities:
- For a Class C misdemeanor, the maximum penalty is a $500 fine.
- For a Class B misdemeanor, the maximum find is raised to $2,000 and you can also be sent to jail up to 180 days (about 6 months).
- For a Class A misdemeanor, the Class B penalties are essentially doubled, to a $4,000 fine and/or 1 year in jail.
Beyond the Class A misdemeanor level are felonies, which in Texas refers to offenses where you may be sentenced to more than 1 year in prison. Felony convictions also carry a number of restrictions on a person’s civil rights, such as the loss of your right to vote or carry a firearm. And any kind of criminal record, even just for a misdemeanor, can negatively affect your employment, housing, or credit opportunities.
Do You Need Help from a Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer?
Halloween pranks may start out with harmless intentions, they can quickly turn into legal headaches. But with the assistance of an experienced attorney, you can put forth a successful defense and protect your child’s future. Keep the contact information for Rosenthal & Wadas in your phone. We hope you don’t need us but if you do we are just a phone call away.
A DWI arrest on Halloween will not only ruin your evening, but can also create a haunting conviction on your record, which can take a toll on your future. If you do find yourself or your child in a legal situation, please contact the Collin County criminal lawyers at Rosenthal & Wadas to discuss your situation.