When Does Smashing Pumpkins and Ding Dong Ditching on Halloween Become Criminal?

Halloween is about trick-or-treating and scarfing down way too much candy. But when does too much fun become criminal? Smashing pumpkins and ding-dong ditching can both result in criminal charges.

Harmless Pranks or Misdemeanors & Felonies?

Smashing Pumpkins

This common prank usually upsets those devoted to carving the pumpkins. But if you smash the pumpkin of another and are caught by law enforcement, you run the risk of being charged with theft or criminal mischief.

Theft is committed if you unlawfully “appropriate” the property of another with the intent to “deprive the owner of the property.” Criminal mischief applies when you “intentionally or knowingly” damage someone else’s “tangible property” or otherwise tamper with it. You don’t need to take the pumpkin anywhere. If you smash it, you intentionally damage it and deprive the owner of his or her ability to enjoy it. A criminal charge in such cases can range from a Class C misdemeanor (if the value of the pumpkin was less than $100) to a state jail felony (if it was an award-winning pumpkin valued at more than $2,500). Criminal Mischief can also be charged by establishing that the actor intentionally damaged the property of another.

Ding Dong Ditching Billy Madison Style

Otherwise known as placing a paper bag filled with solid excrement (usually of the canine variety) on someone’s doorstep, lighting it on fire, and ringing the doorbell. This prank could lead to a criminal mischief charge if you cause property damage due to the negligent use of fire. Indeed, if the fire spreads from the bag to the doormat or the porch, you may be guilty of criminal mischief. As with the smashing pumpkins scenario, if the doormat or other property damaged was worth less than $100, you are looking at a Class C misdemeanor charge. Even smashing gum/soft substances into keyholes of the doors can result in a fine.

That may not sound too bad, but consider that if you intentionally set any fire, even as a “Halloween prank,” you can also be charged with arson, which Section 28.02 of the Texas Penal Code defines as starting a fire “with intent to destroy or damage any building, habitation, or vehicle” that you know belongs to someone else. Arson involving a “habitation”–i.e., someone’s house–is classified as a first-degree felony in Texas. This means a ding-dong ditch could, theoretically, send you to prison for at least five years (and possibly the rest of your life).

Toilet Papering Your Neighbor’s House

Covering someone’s house in toilet paper has become a popular prank not just at Halloween time but also following celebratory events like a high school graduation or winning an important sports contest. For instance, Chicago hockey fans famously TP’d their coach’s house after winning the Stanley Cup 2015. But when the homeowner doesn’t appreciate their property’s “festive” decorating, you can find yourself in significant legal trouble.

While no specific laws in Texas prohibit toilet paper, it can be charged as criminal mischief. You can also be liable for [criminal trespass] under Section 30.05 of the Penal Code if the owner posted a “No Trespassing” sign or ordered you to leave the property before the toilet papering began. Criminal trespass is normally a Class B misdemeanor, but the charge may be elevated to Class A if the act occurs “in a habitation.”

Also note that a parent may be liable if they assist their children (or their friends) with a toilet paper prank. In 2013 a grand jury in Tarrant County indicted a Coleyville mother for criminal mischief after she was seen “purchasing more than 100 rolls of toilet paper with a group of children the night before” a local house was covered in toilet paper and other items, allegedly causing more than $6,000 in property damage.

Egging a House, Car, or Person

Similar to toilet papering but potentially more hazardous–and certainly more smelly–is the time-honored practice of egging a house, car, and in many cases, even a person. The truth is that eggs are best used in an omelet, not as part of a prank. Egging can damage you and open you up to civil and criminal lawsuits.

Consider what might happen if you and your friends egg that nice Mercedes parked out on the street. In addition to the dents caused by the smashed egg shells, the chemicals in the egg whites and yolks can damage the car’s paint job. Let’s say it costs the owner $1,000 to repaint the entire car. At that level of damage, you are looking at a Class A misdemeanor, a few steps up from the Class C misdemeanor for smashing that pumpkin we discussed earlier. The owner can also seek civil damages against you–or your parents if you are a minor–which can lead to an award of attorney’s fees and court costs.

Similarly, if you decide to egg a person, the victim could turn around and press criminal charges for assault. That may sound excessive, but Section 22.01 of the Penal Code defines assault as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” causing “bodily injury to another.” And if you think an egg does not cause bodily injury, consider there have been cases where egging attacks blinded people.

What Penalties Do I Face If I’m Arrested for a Prank?

In this article, we have referenced various classes of misdemeanors. But what are the consequences of a Halloween prank becoming a criminal charge? Here is a brief rundown of the sentencing possibilities:

  • The maximum penalty for a Class C misdemeanor is a $500 fine.
  • For a Class B misdemeanor, the maximum fine is raised to $2,000, and you can also be sent to jail for up to 180 days (about six months).
  • For a Class A misdemeanor, the Class B penalties are essentially doubled to a $4,000 fine and/or one year in jail.

Beyond the Class A misdemeanor level are felonies, which in Texas refer to offenses where you may be sentenced to more than one year in prison. Felony convictions also restrict a person’s civil rights, such as the loss of your right to vote or carry a firearm. Any criminal record, even just for a misdemeanor, can negatively affect your employment, housing, or credit opportunities.

Do You Need Help from a Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Halloween pranks may start out with harmless intentions, but they can quickly turn into legal headaches. But with the assistance of an experienced attorney, you can put forth a successful defense and protect your child’s future. Keep the contact information for Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian in your phone. We hope you don’t need us, but we are just a phone call away if you do.

A DWI arrest on Halloween will ruin your evening and create a haunting conviction on your record, which can take a toll on your future. If you find yourself or your child in a legal situation, don’t hesitate to contact the Collin County criminal lawyers at Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian to discuss your situation.

Written by: Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian Last Updated : September 18, 2023