What to do if we rented hotel rooms but accidentally melted a sofa cushion and were charged with damage to property?

People in my school rented out hotel rooms for the weekend. We wanted to throw a small party in our room, so somebody decided to make more room and put 2 couches on top of each other, over beds and near a nightstand with a lamp. A couple hours later we smelled burnt plastic, and found out the couch cushions were mildly melting from the lamp breaking, but no fire. The cops got called but we didn’t get arrested. Now we just got a court summons paper with criminal mischief charge and damage over $2,000. The paper says “recklessly or negligently damaging property while employing or handling fire” and “caused significant damage to sofa by lighting it on fire”. We did not do this on purpose and had no idea any of it was going to happen.

Asked on October 7, 2014 under Criminal Law, New Jersey


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

"Recklessly or negligently damaging property while employing or handling fire" means doing something by being unreasonably careless--such as piling couches on top of each other, near a lamp. It does not mean that you did it on purpose, so in fact you have been charged with the correct thing--careless damaging another's property with fire. If this is your first brush with the law, there's a reasonable chance you may get the charges dropped, especially if you are willing to pay compensation for the damage; however, to maximize your chance of a good outcome, hire an attorney to represent you.

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