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Breaking a window might not seem like a serious crime, until you remember an entire theory of policing was born out of enforcing exactly that offense. Police officers are now taking broken windows more seriously, and the penalties for breaking a window can be severe.
Those penalties will depend on the criminal charge, which can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. Here's a look at criminal charges for breaking windows, along with some penalties.
Breaking a window may fall under local criminal mischief laws, which prohibit property damage crimes and can include everything from graffiti and street art to accidentally setting your school on fire after burning a love letter. Penalties for criminal mischief can vary widely depending on state and local statutes and how much damage to the property is caused.
For example, criminal mischief in Alabama might be just a Class B misdemeanor if the damage is less than $500, and may just warrant a fine. But criminal mischief causing more than $1,500 in damage or done by an explosion can be charged as a felony under New York law meaning you could see prison time.
Some states describe certain property damage as vandalism, and breaking windows can often fall under these definitions. For instance, Tennessee defines vandalism as causing "damage to or the destruction of any real or personal property of another," and makes vandalism of a retail merchant a felony offense. So breaking a store window could get you up to six years in prison.
If a window was broken to gain access to a vehicle or building in order to steal property, you could be looking at a whole host of other criminal charges and penalties. Some states have separate statutes for acts such as breaking into a locked vehicle to steal property or looting.
If you've been charged with a crime related to breaking a window, contact an attorney.