Torched Trump Sign Could Bring Charges of Criminal Mischief
In the political season, many New Jersey residents exercise their First Amendment rights by placing signs on their lawns and bumper stickers on their cars. But if you’re thinking about making a statement by defacing those signs or scraping off those bumper stickers, you could be inviting criminal charges. Take, for example, the case in Egg Harbor where John Jay Henry erected an 8-by-16-foot Trump sign on his lawn. The sign had already been defaced with vulgar messages, but in mid-March, someone poured accelerant on it and set it afire. Under New Jersey law, that stunt is called criminal mischief, which can be charged in a variety of ways:
- Disorderly persons offense — If the property damage is less than $500, the sentence could be as much as six months in county jail.
- Crime of the fourth degree — If the losses are from $500 up to $2,000, it is a felony-type offense with a potential prison sentence of up to 18 months.
- Crime of the third degree — If the damaged property amounts to $2,000 or more, it is a felony-type offense with possible sentences ranging from three to five years.
The value of the Trump sign would include the cost of raw materials and a reasonable estimate of the cost of labor, if the homeowner had paid someone to erect it.
The political season often inflames passions among partisans of one candidate or another. But inflaming property is another matter. It might seem like a fine prank to tear up a neighbor’s lawn sign, but even that slight act of protest fits the definition of criminal mischief, which is “to purposely or knowingly damage someone else’s property.”