Oct 29

Mischievous on Mischief Night: Crimes or Harmless Pranks?


Post Updated: 10/26/2015

mischief night in pennsylvania, creepy looking pumpkinSince as far back as 1790 children have been given a degree of license to play pranks and do mischief in their neighborhoods on the day before Halloween. But it’s now getting serious.

In Pennsylvania, it is called “Mischief Night”, but in other parts of the country it is called Devil’s Night, Hell Night, Mizzy Night, Tic Tac Toe night, Cabbage Night or Goosing Night.

While most communities in the United States have turned a blind eye to the majority of the harmless pranks youngsters pull, some municipalities have issued strict “Zero Tolerance” policies for any sort of deviant behavior.

Police Departments Take A Stand on Mischief Night

In fact, the Police Department in Park Ridge, NJ  issued a notice (PDF) that they “will be confiscating all items, including toilet paper and shaving cream, from children wandering unsupervised on the streets, and the names of all unsupervised juveniles will be recorded.” Furthermore, the notice stated that those juveniles will be “processed according to law.”

Harmless Pranks or Misdemeanors & Felonies?mischief night crimes and felonies

Many would-be pranksters and mischief makers take things a step beyond toilet paper and shaving cream and into the realm of criminal activities. Below are some of the most common Mischief Night pranks and the possible laws that may be broken in some of the more draconian towns.

Ding Dong Ditch Billy Madison Style

Place a paper-bag filled with solid excrement (usually of the canine variety) on someone’s doorstep, light it on fire, and ring the doorbell. This is an old prank that was glorified in the movie Billy Madison, when Billy did it to Old Man Clemens. Once the unsuspecting homeowner notices the flaming bag, he/she will try to stomp it out, which of course is the climax of the mischief night prank.

Possible crimes committed on mischief night:
  • Criminal mischief? If a person damages property of another by negligence in the employment of fire, the person commits this crime. Therefore, if the fire spreads from the bag to the doormat, you may be guilty of criminal mischief. If the doormat is valued less than $150 you are looking at a summary offense. Otherwise, it is most likely a misdemeanor punishable by up to 5 years in jail.
  • Disorderly Conduct? A person commits this offense if they create a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor. Does lighting a bag of poop on fire have no legitimate purpose? I know how the Park Ridge authorities would answer that question.
  • Arson? Probably not, even in Park Ridge. This statute requires the intentional starting of a fire with the purpose of destroying or damaging an inhabited building or occupied structure (felony of the first degree). Here, the intent is to have a little fun at the expense of the homeowner. However, there has been a case of a prankster being charged with arson on mischief night.
  • Dangerous burning? A summary offense, this crime is committed if a fire is intentionally started that endangers any person or property of another, whether or not any damage actually occurs. Since the goal of this prank is in fact to get the homeowner to step on fire, the elements of this offense is probably made out.
  • Simple Trespass? This summary offense is committed if a person, knowing he is not licensed or privileged to do so, remains for the purpose of starting any fire upon the premises.

Poop On Door Step - Mischief Night Prank

Real Mischief Night Example: Consequences Are Not Always Legal
These ding dong escapades may not only get people in trouble with the law but angry victims as well. Across the US, young ding dong ditchers have been receiving backlash for their risky endeavors from physical assault to even shootings. 12-year old Jacob Eberle learned his lesson the hard way when he got shot in the back by Michael Bishop in Louisville, Kentucky. Source

Toilet Papering a House

Throw rolls of toilet paper across the trees and bushes of a neighbor’s property. This is probably the most common of all Mischief Night pranks- assuming you aren’t first detained for unlawful possession of toilet paper in Park Ridge, you may nonetheless be committing a crime.

Possible crimes committed on mischief night:
  • Criminal Mischief? Most likely not, even in Park Ridge. This crime requires actual damage to the property of another, not mere tampering.
  • Disorderly Conduct? This “catch-all” crime is probably made out for the reasons set forth above.
  • Criminal Trespass? It is a second degree felony to break into a separately secured portion of an occupied structure. Thus, if you break into a fenced backyard to throw the toilet paper, you may have committed a felony. It would be better to throw the toilet paper from the street if at all possible, or to jump over the fence. However, if you jump over the fence, you are probably committing the crime of Defiant Trespass, a third degree misdemeanor.

Mischief Night Toilet Paper Prank

Real Mischief Night Example: Think Before You Tee-Pee
Toilet papering a home is not just harmless fun for a good laugh. It’s tiresome work for those on the receiving end and can tear neighborhoods apart. Not only can kids get in trouble, but parents as well. One mother from Colleyville, Texas was indicted by a grand jury for helping middle school children toilet paper a house and accumulating over $6,000 worth of damage. Source

Smashing Pumpkins

This non-creative mischief night prank usually just upsets the young children of the house who devoted time to carving the pumpkins, although it can be fun (I imagine) to watch them explode. If you smash the pumpkin of another, and are caught by law enforcement, you run the risk of being charged.

Possible crimes committed on mischief night:
  • Theft? This crime is committed if you unlawfully take the movable property of another, with intent to deprive him thereof. You don’t need to take the pumpkin anywhere. If you smash it, you are permanently depriving the owner of his ability to enjoy it. This crime can range from a summary offense (if the value is less than $50) to a felony of the third degree (if it was an award winning pumpkin valued at more than $2,000).
  • Criminal Mischief? This crime can also be made out by establishing that the actor intentionally damaged the property of another.
  • Burglary? Yes, you could be on the hook for one of the most serious-sounding crimes on the books. This crime could be established if you enter a separately secured portion of an occupied structure (i.e., fenced-in backyard) with the intent to commit a crime (i.e., see criminal mischief or theft above).
  • Criminal Trespass/ Defiant Trespass? See above.

Smashing Pumpkins Prank

Real Mischief Night Example: Man Vs. Pumpkin
A 23 year old man from Orange, Connecticut was caught and arrested after he went on a pumpkin smashing spree with a friend. His friend escaped but he was arrested by police and charged with 3rd-degree Criminal Mischief and Interfering with an Officer. He was held on $1000 bond. Source

The Scarecrow/Dummy

Put a scarecrow in a baby stroller and push it into traffic. Ok. This prank probably gets you in trouble in any jurisdiction.

Possible crimes committed on mischief night:
  • Aggravated assault (if serious bodily injury results)
  • Simple assault (if bodily injury occurs)
  • Recklessly endangering another person.
  • Criminal mischief (if any property damage results).
  • Causing or risking a catastrophe.

Scarecrow Prank

Real Mischief Night Example: Human-Like Objects Cause Panic
Although these scarecrows weren’t pushed into oncoming traffic, which is extremely dangerous enough already, these front lawn decorations featuring dummies were scary enough to get the police called over. It’s never good news if the police are called by concerned neighbors. These bold people had to pay for the costs of their controversial decorations and wasting police time. Source

In Closing – Enjoy Halloween, Avoid Mischief Night

Whether you are in Park Ridge, or in any other fun-loving municipality, you can follow these simple tips to protect your property from vandals this Mischief Night, and have a fun and safe Halloween. And remember, if you or anyone is arrested, LinkLaw, LLC is always available for a free consultation.

Philadelphia criminal defense attorney R. Patrick Link

R. Patrick Link

Patrick Link is a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer who has successfully tried hundreds of cases for clients including people charged with DUI, drug possession, illegal possession of firearms, assault, robbery, theft, homicide and numerous other criminal offenses.

Call R. Patrick Link right now, at 267-858-4774, and request a free initial consultation to get started immediately.

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