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Is Criminal Damage to Property a Felony Offense in Wisconsin?

Broadly defined, criminal damaging is when someone destroys another person's property without the owner's consent. In Wisconsin, if a person commits this offense, they could be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. The specifics of the circumstances determine the level of charge.

When Is Criminal Damaging a Misdemeanor?

Suppose Beth and her friends are out one night. They see that their neighbor's house is empty, and they throw rocks at the windows, breaking them. Neither Beth nor her friends had permission to destroy the windows. Therefore, they are charged with misdemeanor criminal damaging.

Wisconsin Statute § 943.01(1), specifically defines criminal damaging as a misdemeanor when a person:

  • Acts intentionally, and
  • Destroys the physical property of another
  • Without that person's consent

Because of their actions, Beth and her friends could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. The penalties for this level include imprisonment for up to 9 months and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

In the example with Beth and her friends, the property destroyed was the windows of their neighbor's home, but criminal damaging is not limited to that done to houses. Any personal property is covered under the law.

When Is Criminal Damaging a Felony?

Destruction to certain types of property elevates the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony. For instance, say Beth and her friends busted the windshield of a public bus, rendering it inoperable. This conduct would result in a felony charge because the damage caused the bus to be out of service.

However, the destruction of the bus's windshield is just one example of felony criminal damaging.

A person could also face this charge if they damage:

  • A vehicle or public highway, which can cause injury to others or further destruction
  • A public utility or common carrier, and the destruction impairs services
  • The property of a juror because they agreed with a verdict or indictment in a case
  • An item and its value is reduced by $2,500 (the reduction is determined by how much it costs to repair or replace the object)
  • State-owned land
  • An archaeological site with carvings or paintings on immobile rock surfaces

In these situations, criminal damaging is a Class I felony. The conviction penalties include a maximum prison sentence of 3 years, 6 months and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

The following circumstances also result in Class I felony charges:

  • The property damage was a plant or material used to grow a plant and the plant was to be used to feed animals or for commercial purposes
  • The property damaged was a machine that operates with paper or plastic currency, the purpose of the destruction was to steal the money, and the damage decreased the object’s value by between $500 and $2500

Criminal damaging could also be elevated to a Class H felony when the property damaged belonged to an energy provider, and the alleged perpetrator destroyed it to disrupt goods or services.

The penalties for a Class H conviction include imprisonment for up to 6 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

Are you facing a criminal charge in Milwaukee? Get over 20 years of legal experience fighting for you by calling the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella at (414) 882-8382 or filling out an online contact form. Your initial case consultation is free.

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