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Property Crimes

Property Crimes Lawyer

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Property crimes might seem relatively minor compared to more heinous crimes such as murder or rape. That doesn't mean you should take any property-related criminal charges lightly. In Pennsylvania, property crimes run from summary offenses to first-degree felonies. While any conviction can be harmful to your future, a felony conviction is particularly troublesome. 

Having a highly-experienced and accomplished property crimes lawyer fight for your rights can help minimize the impact property-related criminal charges have on your life. For over 15 years, our property crimes lawyer Tammy Dusharm has represented clients facing a wide range of criminal offenses. No matter the circumstances, Tammy and her team work hard to give you the best chance at achieving a positive outcome.

What Is a Property Crime in Pennsylvania?

The term “property crime” refers to any criminal offense that involves the destruction or theft of property. Here are some examples of common criminal damage to property charges in Pennsylvania:

  • Arson,

  • Burglary,

  • Criminal mischief,

  • Receiving stolen goods,

  • Criminal trespass,

  • Embezzlement,

  • Shoplifting (retail theft),

  • Vandalism, and

  • Reckless burning.

The severity of these crimes depends on a few factors. When making a charging decision, the prosecutor will look at the type of property damaged or stolen. They will also look to see if there are any aggravating factors like possessing a gun during the commission of the crime or causing an injury. Let’s take a look at some specific property crimes.


Arson in Pennsylvania can be a felony of the first degree according to 18 PA Code 3301. It is a first-degree felony if the person (1) starts a fire or causes an explosion and recklessly puts another person in danger of death or bodily injury or (2) starts a fire or causes an explosion with the purpose of destroying or damaging an inhabited building or occupied structure. 

Another form of arson is aggravated arson, which is also a Felony of the First Degree, which involves intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion with the intent to cause bodily injury to any person—including a firefighter, police officer, or another person engaged in fighting the blaze. Aggravated arson also occurs when someone starts a fire or causes an explosion when a person is inside the property. 

Arson becomes a second-degree felony if a person intentionally starts a fire or explosion with the intent to destroy a building or structure. Second-degree arson involves starting a fire that recklessly puts an inhabited building in danger or destroys a building to receive insurance proceeds.

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Criminal Mischief

Criminal mischief is another common property crime that involves a broad category of offenses. Under 18 PA Code 3304, damaging another’s property by fire, explosives, or other means is criminal mischief. It covers tampering, defacing, making graffiti, intentionally damaging property, and causing another person to lose money from deception or threat. Many people think of vandalism when they think of criminal mischief.

The penalties for criminal mischief vary depending on how much money the property owner lost because of the damage. Causing property damage in excess of $5,000 is a third-degree felony. Causing monetary losses of more than $1,000 is a second-degree misdemeanor, and it is a third-degree misdemeanor if the damage is between $$500 and $1,000 or involves graffiti and the damage is over $150.00. Finally, property damage less than $150 is a summary offense.


The common law definition of burglary is breaking and entering in the nighttime into the dwelling of another with the intent to commit a felony therein. Current Pennsylvania law does not stray too far from its origins. However, the modern definition of burglary is much broader than burglary at common law.

Committing burglary when an occupant is present and causing injury or threatening injury to the occupant is a first-degree felony. Entering an occupied building with the intent to commit a crime is also a first-degree felony. 

Committing burglary in an unoccupied building that is not adapted for overnight accommodations is a second-degree felony. However, the crime becomes a first-degree felony if the person commits the crime with the intent to steal drugs. 

Burglary has statutory defenses. According to Pennsylvania’s burglary law, you cannot be convicted of burglary if: 

  • The owner abandoned the structure;

  • The building is open to the public; or

  • The person accused of burglary has permission from the owner to enter.

You might have other defenses to a burglary charge as well. Speak with a knowledgeable property crimes defense lawyer to learn more about the other defenses applicable to your case.

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Criminal Trespass

Criminal trespass in Pennsylvania happens when a person enters, gains entry by subterfuge, or remains in a building or structure when they know they do not have permission to do so. This is a third-degree felony. 

Police can also bring a criminal trespass charge when someone breaks into a building or occupied structure. This type of criminal trespass is a second-degree felony. The difference between a third-degree felony and a second-degree felony here lies in the “breaking and entering” element of criminal trespass. 

Defiant Trespass is a less serious version of criminal trespassing. A “defiant trespasser” is someone who enters or remains in a place even after receiving notice that they no longer have permission to be there. The notice component is a vital element of this charge. Notice that meets the statutory grounds includes:

  • Communicating with the person;

  • Posting a sign or other warning that a trespasser should see; or

  • Installing a fence or other structure designed to exclude people who have no permission to enter the premises.

These rules apply to school grounds as well as private residences.

Simple trespassing

Pennsylvania law includes the crime of simple trespassing. A simple trespasser is a person who enters or remains on the premises without permission and threatens the owner or occupant, tries to start a fire, defaces, or otherwise damages the property. Simple trespassing is a summary offense.

Agricultural trespassing

Agricultural trespassing is another Pennsylvania property crime that involves entering agricultural land without permission in defiance of a posted warning. This is a third-degree misdemeanor. The statute allows for a jail term of no longer than one year and a fine of no less than $250. 

Agricultural trespassing can also occur when a person enters or remains on agricultural property after the owner personally communicated that the person was trespassing. In this case, the charge would be a second-degree misdemeanor with a maximum term of incarceration of two years and a fine between $500 to $5,000.

Statutory Trespassing Defenses

Pennsylvania’s criminal trespass statute includes defenses that may apply to your case. These defenses apply when:

  • The owner of the structure abandoned the property;

  • The alleged trespasser entered a building open to the public and complied with all of the terms to remain in the building; or

  • Someone gave the alleged trespasser permission to enter or remain on the premises.

There might be other defenses besides the listed statutory offenses. A skilled property crimes defense lawyer can help you determine which defense is the best for your case.

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Robbery and Theft

Robbery is an aggravated form of theft. Theft becomes robbery when someone threatens or puts someone in fear of suffering a serious bodily injury if they don’t comply with the theft. Robbery also occurs when someone takes property from another by application of physical force. 

Robbery is a first-degree felony in most cases. It can also be a second-degree or third-degree felony, depending on the circumstances.

Theft and stealing mean the same thing. The punishments for theft in Pennsylvania vary depending on the items stolen, the value of the stolen goods, and whether the victim belongs to a protected class of people like the elderly. Shoplifting and receiving stolen property also fall under this category of property crimes.

Penalties for Property-Related Criminal Offenses

The possible penalties for property crimes vary depending on the type of offense and either the amount of damage or the value of the property. The vulnerable nature of an alleged victim and your prior criminal record play a role in sentencing as well.

Pennsylvania property crime penalties include:

  • Summary offense—no more than 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $300;

  • Third-degree misdemeanor—One year in jail and fines up to $5,000;

  • Second-degree misdemeanor—Maximum of two years in jail and $5,000 fine;

  • First-degree misdemeanor—no more than five years in jail or a $10,000 fine;

  • Third-degree felony—no more than seven years in prison and a maximum fine of $15,000;

  • Second-degree felony—no more than 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine; and

  • First-degree felony—no more than 20 years in prison and a fine of no more than $25,000.

Additionally, if the victim has suffered a financial loss as a result of your actions, you will be required to pay restitution to fully compensate the victim for their losses.

Having a knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced property crimes lawyer can help you evaluate your options.

How Can Dusharm Law LLC Help You?

Property crimes defense attorney Tammy Dusharm represents people from all walks of life, and she has handled numerous destruction of property cases. She’s probably handled a case similar to yours. 

When an experienced and aggressive attorney like Tammy gets a new case, she examines the evidence thoroughly. She looks for weaknesses in the evidence and ways to use those weaknesses to your advantage. 

Tammy also gets to know her clients. You’ll never feel left in the dark with Tammy representing you. Tammy and her staff at Dusharm Law will tend to every aspect of your case and keep you well informed about every development.

Contact Dusharm Law LLC Today

Call us at 717-204-7820 if you have any questions about facing property crime charges in Perry County or the nearby areas of Pennsylvania. We strive to achieve the best outcome for our clients, even in the most serious situations. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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