In the Volunteer State, there is no first-degree criminal mischief offense. Instead, the phrase “criminal mischief” usually refers to one of three nuisance offenses: disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, or vandalism.
These offenses are typically Class C misdemeanors, which is the lowest level criminal offense in Tennessee. Probably for that reason, many people do not think these infractions are very serious. In fact, they often overlook potential consequences and do not even work with Fizer Bonding Company (bail bonds clarksville tn) to get out of jail. Instead, they plead guilty after serving a couple of days. The judge typically sentences them to time served, the sheriff releases them, and they think that’s the end of the matter.
But these offenses have some substantial collateral consequences. Potential employers often refuse to hire people who have property crime convictions. Additionally, a conviction could affect eligibility for student aid, as well as college admission or even enlistment in the military or its various offerings.
Fortunately, there are a number of possible defenses when you work with an attorney to these three crimes. However, if the defendant is in jail before trial, it’s much harder to present these defenses in court from behind bars.
Section 39-17-305 of the Tennessee Code is basically a catch-all provision which encompasses a wide range of behavior that does not threaten public safety but often displeases police officers. It is a Class C misdemeanor to:
- Fight in Public: The fight could occur in a private place, like a bar or a front yard of a house party, as long as other people could see it. The statute also prohibits “threatening” behavior. That could include holding a writing pen up to some while you verbally yell at them.
- Refuse to Obey a Command to Disperse: This point is an interesting one which bears closer scrutiny. When police officers arrive on the scene, many people turn on their cell phone cameras. Many Appeals Court circuits have ruled that people have a fundamental right to do so under the First Amendment, but the Sixth Circuit (Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan) has not done so. Therefore, if a Montgomery County peace officer tells you to turn off your cell phone camera and you do not do so, you could be charged with disorderly conduct and the charges could hold up in court. So think twice in these states when you are tempted to record and upload on Facebook.
- Create a Hazardous Condition: Tennessee does not have a separate “drunk and disorderly” law or a first-degree criminal mischief law, but it does have this portion of the disorderly conduct law. But it is not a crime to be loud and obnoxious. It is only a crime to be so loud and obnoxious that you annoy other people.
Clearly, this offense is very complex. The fighting-in-public portion of the law, along with the drunk-and-disorderly portion, usually require a civilian witness in court. Typically, by the time officers arrive, the fight is over. So, the prosecutor must produce a witness who saw the fight. The same is true of drunk-and-disorderly. A witness must testify that the defendant was so loud and obnoxious that s/he could not enjoy his/her appetizer at Chili’s or coffee at Starbucks.
Civilian witness cases give the defendant an advantage in court. After a few months or even a few weeks, many people lose interest in the case and refuse to cooperate with prosecutors. In some cases, the state could subpoena the witness, but most prosecutors find it tedious and time-consuming.
Even if the witness comes to court, the witness may be legally incompetent to testify. For example, in many cases, so much time has passed that the witness has no independent recollection of the event. It can be hard to remember details of a 10-minute event just from memory recall.
As for the filming-the-police item, a defendant could probably appeal a conviction all the way to the Supreme Court. There is currently a split in the circuits. The neighboring Eighth Circuit recently became the first appeals court to rule that people do not have a fundamental First Amendment right to film officers as they carry out their official duties. There is much debate on this subject as more and more officers are wearing body cameras and video surveillance is more accessible than ever.
Most states have criminal trespass laws similar to Tennessee Code 39-14-405. The Volunteer State’s criminal mischief law breaks trespassing down into three scenarios:
- Ordinary trespass, which is a CLass C misdemeanor, is essentially being where you are not wanted.
- Aggravated trespass, a Class B misdemeanor, is making another person afraid when you are where you are not wanted.
- Aggravated trespass is a Class A misdemeanor if it occurs in a prohibited place, like a school or hospital.
Nearly all criminal trespass cases are ordinary trespass matters. These arrests are only valid if the owner warned the defendant. This warning could be a verbal warning, or it could be a “no trespassing” sign.
These signs are often overly polite. For example, a restaurant may post a sign which says something like “Please finish your meal within 30 minutes.” A person with limited English proficiency or reading skills may not understand that the sign is a criminal trespass warning.
The final “first-degree criminal mischief” law in Robertson County is Tennessee Code 39-14-408. This law basically prohibits non-taking thefts. It is illegal to:
- Pollute, destroy, or contaminate someone else’s property,
- Tamper with property in a way that affects its value or substantially inconveniences the owner,
- Intentionally spray or spill something onto merchandise to deface it, or
- Destroy or decrease the value of store merchandise.
The penalty depends on the value of the merchandise or property. 39-14-408 offenses have much stiffer penalties than the other criminal mischief statutes. If the property is worth up to $500, vandalism is a Class A misdemeanor. Property worth $500 to $1,000 is a Class E felony.
These cases do come up in court and unless the police department loses the physical evidence or the complaining witness refuses to cooperate in any way, a defense will be necessary. But a positive outcome is still very possible. Typically, if the defendant makes restitution, pretrial diversion is available in misdemeanor vandalism cases. If the defendant jumps through a few hoops, such as completing a community service requirement, prosecutors may dismiss or lessen the charges.
Again, early jail release is often critical to a successful outcome. So, if you were arrested for any crime, remember just pleading guilty to get it over with could greatly affect you for the rest of your life. Instead, call Fizer Bonding Company (bail bonds clarksville tn) to find out more about pre-trial release on bail. Their professional bonding agents are available 24/7 with valuable information and bail bond services to Get Your Tail Outta Jail ! Fizer Bonding Company is family-owned and served the bonding needs of Montgomery and Robertson Counties for over 40 years. Fizer Bonding Company is a proud member of the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents. For more info about Fizer Bonding Company bail bonds, click here.
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