What is Arson?
There are two different types of arson. The first is the act of setting fire to any building, forest land, or property willfully and with malicious intent. You can be charged with this crime even for setting your own property on fire if:
- the property is a building or other real estate,
- you set fire to your personal property for fraudulent purposes such as insurance fraud, or
- the fire causes injury to another person or another person’s home, land, or property.
The second type is reckless arson. In order to set fire to a structure, forest land, or property recklessly, the following must be true:
- You must have been aware that your actions propose a risk of causing a fire,
- Your ignored that risk, and
- Doing these things is a negligent act that a reasonable person would act differently in the same situation.
Penalties for Arson
Since there are different types of this crime, the penalties vary on the type of arson committed, whether people were injured, and your criminal history.
When committed with willful or malicious intent, this crime is always a felony in California. The penalties are different for where the crime was committed, but all of them include time in a California state prison. potential penalties include:
- Sixteen months, two years, or three years for burning of personal property.
- Two, four, or six years for burning of a structure or forest land.
- Three, five, or eight years for arson that causes an inhabited structure or property to burn.
- Five, seven, or nine years for causing great bodily injury to someone through arson.
In addition to serving a California state prison sentence, there is also a fine of up to $10,000.
You may also have an additional fine of either:
- $50,000 or
- Twice the amount of anticipated or actual gain from the fire (this is only true if it can be proven that you committed this crime for financial gain).
This crime is also a strike under California’s three strike law.
Basic reckless burning is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. It becomes a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, if the property burned is a structure or forest land or if it causes great bodily injury. If these circumstances are true, then the potential penalties include:
- Burning of a forest land – up to six months in a county jail (as a misdemeanor), or sixteen months, two or three years in a state prison (as a felony).
- Reckless burning of inhabited structure or property – up to one year in a county jail (as a misdemeanor), or two, three, or four years in a state prison (as a felony).
- Reckless burning that causes great bodily injury – up to one year in a county jail (as a misdemeanor), or two, four, or six years in a state prison (as a felony).
Legal Defenses for Arson
Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer is important when facing charges of arson because the penalties can be so severe. Here are some of the most common legal defenses for arson.
It was an accident
In order to be convicted of this crime, it has to be proven that you acted either maliciously or recklessly. You must prove that the fire was caused by an accident in order for it to be a valid legal defense. This defense cannot be used if you were drunk or intoxicated.
There is insufficient evidence
There are usually no witnesses in arson cases, so most of them are built on circumstantial evidence. It can be harder for prosecutors to convince the jury that you are guilty of arson with only circumstantial evidence.
You were falsely or wrongfully accused
People are falsely accused all the time for a lot of different reasons, whether that be jealousy or the real arsonist trying to cover up their crime.
It’s possible to be mistakenly identified through fitting a witnesses description or seeing a car similar to yours near the scene of the crime. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help to convince the judge and jury that you were not responsible.
The fire wasn’t started by arson
Sometimes investigators get it wrong and think that a fire was started by arson when really it was an accident. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can get to the truth.