Criminal Damage Charges in Arizona

What is Criminal Damage and Why is It Charged in Arizona?


The charge of criminal damage occurs when a person damages another person’s property, and the conduct gives rise to the level of criminal conduct under Arizona law. As we will discuss later, criminal damage can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor and the level of the offense largely depends on the value of the property that has been allegedly damaged.

What conduct amounts to criminal damage in Arizona?

There are six ways that a person can commit criminal damage in Arizona and those ways can be found in ARS 13-1602. A person commits criminal damage in Arizona by:

  • Recklessly defacing or damaging property of another person.
  • Recklessly tampering with property of another person so as substantially to impair its function or value.
  • Recklessly damaging property of a utility.
  • Recklessly parking any vehicle in such a manner as to deprive livestock of access to the only reasonably available water.
  • Recklessly drawing or inscribing a message, slogan, sign or symbol that is made on any public or private building, structure or surface, except the ground, and that is made without permission of the owner.
  • Intentionally tampering with utility property.

This language is taken straight from the law in ARS 13-1602. The reason I took the exact language out for you, is because it is critical to look at each element when understanding why criminal damage has been charged. Each individual word matters and can make or break a case.

You will notice that in each of the six ways criminal damage can be charged, there are two major components to the description. There is both (1) a state of mind required (i.e., recklessly or intentionally) and, (2) some conduct that is required to happen with the attached specific state of mind. So, for a person to be guilty of criminal damage, they must both commit the prohibited action and have done so with the required state of mind. It is the government’s burden to prove that this is true beyond a reasonable doubt—which is a very high bar.

What do you mean by “state of mind”?

As you will notice, all but one of the six ways that criminal damage can be committed require a “reckless” state of mind. The last way, ARS 13-1602(A)(6), requires that the conduct occur with an intentional state of mind. The words “reckless” and “intentional” are defined by statute, case law and are even further defined in instructions that are read to a jury should a case go all the way to trial. While it would be too much to dive into for purposes of this blog, looking at the statute that defines mental states is a great place to begin getting an understanding of exactly what they each mean.

ARS 13-105 states that: “Recklessly” means, with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, that a person is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard of such risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. A person who creates such a risk but who is unaware of such risk solely by reason of voluntary intoxication also acts recklessly with respect to such risk.

ARS 13-105 also defines “intentionally” as: Intentionally” or “with the intent to” means, with respect to a result or to conduct described by a statute defining an offense, that a person’s objective is to cause that result or to engage in that conduct.

As mentioned, this is a good place to start, but an Arizona criminal defense attorney will be able to help you understand the nuances of the language and can help you find other legal doctrine that further explains the requirements of any given state of mind. Remember, the prosecution must prove each element of every crime beyond a reasonable doubt during trial for a jury to find guilt. Understanding each element—including the required state of mind—is critical to your case.

How do I know if a specific charge of criminal damage is a felony or a misdemeanor?

Criminal damage in Arizona can carry a wide range of penalties, ranging from penalties that come with a class 2 misdemeanor all the way to a class 4 felony. The seriousness of the charge hinges almost entirely upon the worth of the property that is in question and the diminution in value caused by the damage or the cost of repair. As you can imagine, this can be subjective and open for interpretation in a big way.

Criminal damage in Arizona is charged in the following way:

  • Class 4 Felony – Damage of property is ≥ $10,000 (unless a utility)
  • Class 5 Felony – Damage of property is ≥ $2,000 but < $10,000
  • Class 6 Felony – Damage of property is ≥ $1,000 but < $2,000
  • Class 1 Misdemeanor – Damage of property is ≥ $250 but < $1,000
  • Class 2 Misdemeanor – Damage of property in all other cases

What should you do if you or someone you know is facing criminal damage charges?

If you or someone you know are facing criminal damage charges, you should consult an Arizona criminal defense attorney to understand your specific situation better. Penalties for criminal damage charges can include jail, fines, fees and maybe probation. However, as you can see from this description, there are many areas of this charge that are subjective and open for interpretation. A criminal defense attorney will be able to evaluate your case and look for defenses. Most criminal defense attorneys (myself included) will do an initial evaluation of your case at no charge to you. If you have any questions I can be reached by call or text at (480) 363-0090 24/7 or you can reach me by visiting my contact me page.

Call or Text Steven Scharboneau 24/7 @ (480) 363-0090