Criminal Tampering in New York
What Puts a Person or Entity at Risk of Prosecution?
A person is guilty of criminal tampering in the third degree in New York when that individual tampers with another person’s property intending to cause “substantial inconvenience.”
What Does It Mean to “Tamper?”
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “tampers” as when a person improperly “alters or interferes with” property.
The prosecution can bring charges of criminal tampering in the third degree even if the property under consideration is not damaged. The prosecutor need only show that the defendant’s intent was to cause substantial inconvenience.
Under New York Penal Codes 145.14- 145.20
Criminal tampering can range from above-noted third-degree charge, which is a class B misdemeanor, to criminal tampering in the first degree, aclass D felony. Actions related to criminal tampering are defined under New York Penal Codes § 145.14 – § 145.20.
The more onerous charges of criminal tampering in either the first or second degreegenerally involve a public utility or communications carrier. However, the lesser third-degree offense can involve private individuals.
- For example, if you trespass on someone else’s property without permission and break or tamper with something, you are at risk of a charge of criminal tampering, You should consult an attorney to help determine the best avenue of defense.
Examples of Criminal Tampering
The following examples indicate where charges of criminal tampering might be filed:
- You enter someone else’s property without permission and alter the fence – let’s say you paint graffiti on it. It could be extremely inconvenient for the property owner to remove the graffiti. In this case, you could risk being charged with criminal tampering in the third degree.
- You place jumper cables in the electric power meter box connected to your home, thereby lowering your electricity bill. You could risk a charge of criminal tampering in the second degree.
- Sticking with the jumper cables example above, you inadvertently cause a power outage. You could face the more serious charge of criminal tampering in the first degree.
The Legal Definition of Criminal Tampering
As noted, N.Y. Penal Codes § 145.14 – § 145.20 lay out the legal definitions of various forms of criminal tampering. According to N.Y. Penal Law § 145.14, an individual is legally guilty of criminal tampering in the third degree when that individual tampers with another person’s property without authorization “with intent to cause substantial inconvenience.”
The use of the word “intent” is important, as we’ll see later. While this charge is bad, criminal tampering offenses can get even worse.
Depending on the injured party – remember: tampering with a public service provider can elevate the crime – charges can rise to the level of criminal tampering in the first or second degree. Higher penalties are imposed for these than for criminal tampering in the third degree.
What is the key factor determining if an action warrants a second or first-degree charge?
If the damage was inflicted on a specific utility, let’s say the local gas company, that probably puts you at risk of a charge of criminal tampering in the second degree.
- For example, You place a jumper cable inside an electricity meter box and lower your electricity bill; you are likely at risk of a charge of criminal tampering in the second degree.
- However, if placing that jumper cable inside the electricity meter box causes a minor power outage, the prosecutor could levy the charge of criminal tampering in the first degree.
Specifically, you face a potential charge of:
- Criminal tampering in the second degree if you tamper with or connect with a property of a public utility (think of the gas, electric, sewer, water or telephone company) for a “larcenous or otherwise unlawful or wrongful purpose.” Criminal tampering in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.
- Criminal tampering in the first degree if you tamper with or connect with a property of a public utility and cause “substantial interruption or impairment of service.” Criminal tampering in the first degree is a class D felony.
Elements of Criminal Tampering
Below we outline the “elements” of criminal tampering or what the prosecutor must prove for you to be found guilty. For a defendant to be convicted in a trial for criminal tampering in the third degree under N.Y. Penal Law § 145.14, generally the following must be true:
- You must have tampered with another person’s property
- You had no right to do so and no reason to believe you had a right
- You intended to cause substantial inconvenience
Let’s look at these in greater detail.
Element #1: Tampering with property
This is fairly straightforward. To find an individual guilty, the prosecutor must prove that the individual tampered with someone else’s property.
- For example, you disconnect someone else’s telephone line without permission, leaving that person without service and inconvenience. You could be at risk of beingcharged with criminal tampering in the third degree.
Element #2: No right to tamper with someone’s property
The prosecutor must also prove that you had no right to tamper with someone else’s property. But let’s say your neighbor asked you to walk his dog while he was away and you entered his house, and while searching for the dog’s leash, you inadvertently broke something valuable.
You could argue that you had reason to believe you were authorized to enter the property and look through your neighbor’s things, as you had been asked to walk the dog and needed the leash.
Element #3: Intention to cause substantial inconvenience
The prosecutor must also prove that you intended to cause substantial inconvenience. In the dog walking example above, your defense team could argue that you had no intention to cause your neighbor inconvenience, but were merely looking for the leash.
Charges of criminal tampering could be pursued instead of or in addition to charges of certain other related offenses, including those listed below:
- Related Offense #1: Theft of services
Essentially, an individual is guilty of theft of services when he or she gets or tries to get a service and intends “to avoid payment.” Theft of services is discussed under New York Penal Code § 165.15. It is fairly easy to see how the theft of services charges might accompany tampering in the first or second degree when a person connects with a gas or electricity meter.
- Related Offense #2: Petit larceny
According to New York Penal Code § 155.25, a person is guilty of petit larceny, a class A misdemeanor, when he or she steals property. Black’s Law Dictionary defines larceny as the “fraudulent taking of goods with felonious intent.“
In the case of People v. Myles discussed below, the defendants were charged with theft of services, criminal tampering in the second degree and petit larceny, among other crimes.
- Related Offense #3: Criminal Mischief
N.Y. Penal Codes § 145.00 – § 145.12 outlines the legal definitions of various types of criminal mischief. Essentially, an individual is guilty of criminal mischief when he or she Intentionally damages another person’s property.
What are some of the essential and impactful cases?
The cases highlighted below can help you understand when and how criminal tampering charges are imposed in New York.
- In the case of People v. Neiss, the defendant, a landlord, was indicted on 15 counts of criminal tampering, among other charges. The prosecutor alleged that the defendant stole natural gas by interfering with its distribution by the Brooklyn Union Gas Company.
- In People v. Myles, the defendants were charged with falsifying business records in the first degree, theft of services, criminal tampering in the second degree and petit larceny.
An electric power company employee, while investigating an unrelated issue, opened the defendants’ meter box and found jumper cables that caused about 10% of the current to bypass the meter, thereby lowering their electricity bill.
- In People v James, the defendant was accused of cutting Verizon fiber optic cables at two different locations. He was convicted of criminal tampering in the first degree, as well as criminal mischief in the second degree.
- In People v Walters, a police officer at a subway station observed the defendant pick up a discarded MetroCard and “jam” it into a vending machine “causing the machine to no longer accept United States currency.”
The defendant then allegedly received money from two people in exchange for swiping his MetroCard so that they could enter the subway. The defendant was initially charged with criminal tampering in the second degree, among several other charges.
What agencies detect, investigate, and prosecute criminal tampering?
According to the American Bar Association, the prosecutor “should have wide discretion to select matters for investigation,” but should keep In mind “whether an investigation would be in the public interest” and take into account whether the police are interested in pursuing an investigation, among other factors. Thus, many law enforcement agencies can get involved.
This includes the local police or county sheriff’s office, which can often assist with collecting evidence and possibly identifying witnesses. They can use search warrants and subpoenas, among other tools, to advance an investigation.
If a utility finds that tampering has occurred – remember in People v. Myles, the alleged tampering was initially uncovered by an electric power company employee – it can also contribute towards conducting the investigation. Ultimately, if the prosecutor decides to move forward and file charges, the district attorney or attorney general or deputy attorney general will conduct and / or oversee the case.
What are the statutory penalties if you are convicted of this crime?
Penalties for Violating N.Y. Penal Law § 145.14:
- Criminal Tampering in the third
degree is generally charged as a Class B misdemeanor, with
potential penalties that can include:
- Up to 90 days in jail, or
- Probation of up to one year
- Payment of a fine
- Making restitution to the injured party
As noted, usually steeper penalties are imposed with charges of criminal tampering in the first or second degree. Specifically, penalties can include those outlined below.
- Criminal tampering in the second degree (§ 145.15)
- Class A misdemeanor
- Sentence of up to one year in prison, or
- Probation term of up to 3 years
- Paying a fine
- Criminal tampering in the first degree (§ 145.2)
- Class D felony
- Incarceration of up to 7 years in prison, or
- Probation term of up to 5 years
- Paying a fine
What are some of the additional consequences of being convicted?
You do not want to have a criminal tampering conviction on your record if you can avoid it. Consequences are serious. In addition to potential prison terms and fines as discussed above, a conviction often makes it difficult to obtain future employment and can put your state or federal licenses at risk.
There can also be personal ramifications, as well, as people will generally have access to the fact that such a conviction exists.
Legal Defenses to Criminal Tampering
Therefore, it is advisable to consult an attorney to help steer you through your best means of defense. Legal defenses you can use to fight these charges include arguing that:
- You did not intend to tamper with another person’s property
- You had reason to believe you had a right to alter the other person’s property
- You had no intention to cause substantial inconvenience
Defense #1: No intent
In the example provided earlier of walking your neighbor’s dog and inadvertently breaking (or altering) something, you could argue that you had no intention to alter your neighbor’s property. It was an unfortunate accident. This would also imply that you certainly did not intend to cause your neighbor inconvenience.
With a charge of criminal tampering in the first or second degree, you could also argue that you did not know about the tampering. The jumper cables mentioned in an earlier example could have been placed in the meter box previously by another tenant.
Defense #2: Believed you had a right
Your lawyer could also argue that you believed you had authority to enter the property and handle another person’s property, as discussed in the dog walking example. The prosecution must show that you did NOT have reasonable ground to believe you had such right.
Defense #3: No intention to cause inconvenience
As noted in the dog walking example, your lawyer could argue that you had no intention to cause inconvenience. Or in the example of disconnecting a telephone and interrupting someone’s service, you could argue that it was not your intention to cause inconvenience.
Call us for help
The cases discussed above indicate how complex the legal rules about these crimes can be and the potentially steep punishments that can be levied if you are found guilty. This means that your best course of action is to seek legal assistance.
If you have questions about N.Y, Penal Laws § 145.14 – § 145.20 and various criminal tampering charges, or to discuss your case in confidence with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us.
We have defended clients against criminal tampering, charges in prior cases and want to help you. We have local criminal law offices in your area. Rest assured that everything we discuss regarding your case will remain confidential.
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