California Penal code §594 makes it unlawful for any person to maliciously deface, damage or destroy the personal property of another.
The keyword in a malicious mischief charge is the word malicious. The intent required must be malicious and must be proven to that level by Prosecutors. The act must be carried out with the specific intent to want to cause injury or damage to another, and you intended to commit a wrongful act. If this element is not present, then there is no valid case against you.
Let’s consider two examples. In example A, Dan wants to surprise his girlfriend on her birthday with a new car. He thinks it would be a creative way to tell her by destroying the old car that she drives and parking the new one right next to it. So while she is at work, he goes to her office and pours paint all over her car and writes “Happy Birthday!” all over the old vehicle. Unknown to Dan, is that his girlfriend has driven her father’s car to work, and her co-worker has the exact same car. Dan has actually destroyed the co-workers car.
In this example, Dan had no intent to cause damage or injury to the co-worker. He did not know it was not his girlfriend’s car and he did not intend to commit a wrongful act against the co-worker. Prosecutors will have a hard time proving the case against Dan, but will attempt to do so.
In example B, Dan feels that his girlfriend’s co-worker is the reason his girlfriend is debating breaking up with him. So while his girlfriend is at work, Dan goes to their office and pours paint all over the co-workers car and breaks the windows. In this example, in comparison to the earlier example, Dan has malicious intent. Prosecutors will present the facts of the case, and testimony from those that can attest to the fact that Dan had a vendetta against the co-worker, and that he had the motive to damage her car. This will be a harder case to argue for an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.
Malicious intent in general, like the intent element itself, is difficult to prove in court. However, like in example B, Prosecution can introduce evidence that helps prove the intent. This is called circumstantial evidence. Witnesses are a key part in proving intent as they can help set up the motive. Actual acts undertaken by the person being charged will also go to prove intent. In both situations, there is no argument as to the fact that Dan intended to pour paint over the car, but there is a discrepancy in his ultimate intentions. In example A, he intended to surprise his girlfriend not cause damage to another, and in example B, he had the specific intent of causing damage to anothers property.
If you have been charged with malicious mischief, remember that malicious intent is difficult to prove and can be rebutted by a powerful argument. Consult an expert who has handled thousands of cases like yours so that you have the best possible chance of having your case reduced or dismissed.