A person can be charged with arson if they knowingly and purposely set fire or assist in setting fire to private and public property. Arson is a serious felony that can be charged with up to 9 years in jail and with fines that can range up to $50,000. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) explains that arson is a prevalent crime that has the capacity to affect many lives each year. The NFPA describes that there were roughly 261,300 annual intentional fires between 2010 and 2014. The fires caused a total of 440 deaths and resulted in 1,310 injuries. The costs of property damage were as high as 1 billion in each of the four years.
The numbers presented above have dramatically lowered since 1999 when Clark County Fire Department in Nevada reported a total of 418,000 intentional fires across the United States. Their report states that the fires caused around $2.7 billion dollars in property damage and a total of 622 deaths. Since 1991, the investigation found that 50 percent of all intentional fires were caused by juveniles. The number of juveniles that interact with fire and burn buildings or other public areas is also significantly high in recent years.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) believes that through passions and education we can reduce the number of arson-related fires. Teaching our youth about the dangers of intentional fires can impact the actions of future generations. To learn more about the NFPA and their mission, you are encouraged to visit the following page: www.nfpa.org/About-NFPA
While the NFPA is on a mission to reduce the number of arson-related cases across the United States, there are multiple individuals who do not receive the message and end up in jail as a result of their actions. In the state of California, there are a number of penal codes that describe the different forms of arson that are punishable by law. People who set fire to parks, forests, public buildings, and other private entities, will face serious charges if their acts were intentional and out of malice. However, individuals who accidentally set a building or public space on fire may also be guilty of acting recklessly if their actions amounted to property damage and harm to another person.
If you are being charged with arson in a court of law, you should speak with a local state attorney. In related arson cases, the state of California will consider the defendant's intent and if their actions caused harm to a bystander. For an arson-related conviction, there are three essential components that are present, 1) the intent to purposefully and maliciously commit a crime, 2) willingly set fire or assist in setting fire to public or private places, 3) setting fire to private and public buildings, forests, and other property.
Cases that involve arson requires the attention of a specialized attorney who is versed in the specific penal codes that address arson. If you need to speak to an attorney about your case, you are encouraged to contact Leah Legal at 818-484-1100. In a courtroom, the prosecuting party will attempt to place fault on the defendant especially when they seek reparations. Even when individuals did not act out of malice, if a courtroom decides that their actions were reckless, they may be required to pay certain fines and face a certain amount of time in prison. If you are innocent and your actions were not intentional, you will require the attention of an attorney who can vigorously represent your case.
We are capable of evaluating your case and finding any weakness in the prosecutor's case. Depending on the factors of your case, we may be able to reduce the fines and jail sentence if we can prove that your actions were not intentional. However, if there is enough evidence to support that your actions were unlawful you will need legal representation in a courtroom. If you are guilty of arson, you will vigorous representation to ensure that all the facts of your side are adequately represented.
Why do people burn public and private places?
There are a number of reasons as to why an individual will engage in arson activities. Some individuals have fire protection insurance and burning their building might be motivated by monetary incentives. On the other hand, individuals may burn a public or private place just for their own guilty pleasure. Most commonly individuals burn buildings and public places for the following reasons:
- Monetary Incentive: As mentioned earlier, an individual may set fire to his or her property for monetary gains. Burning a building to receive money from insurance companies is a form of fraud that can be punished as a felony.
- Mischief: People can choose to act out of malice meaning that their intentions are not reasonable. Individuals who wish harm to others out of their actions can be punished with an arson felony.
- Retaliation: Sometimes there are individuals that engage in arson to retaliate or to find revenge.
- Conceal a crime: People may choose to set a place on fire to hide evidence in a crime. Sometimes individuals may choose to burn a building to hide a body or to choose to burn a car so that their evidence disappears.
If a prosecutor is able to establish that the defendant acted with one of the motives mentioned above, a judge will most likely order harsh fines and punishments. To determine the punishment terms and conditions a judge takes into account the age of the defendant, the defendant's intent or justifications, the defendant's mental state, and other factors. Before an arson conviction, the court will take into great consideration the reckless behavior that might have led to the fire. If the court can prove that the individual acted recklessly with no regard for human life, the charges can quickly increase.
California Penal Codes: Arson
The following are penal codes that apply to individuals that engage in an arson-related crime. If you are charged with violating any of the following penal codes, the consequences can result in jail time and high fines.
- California Penal Code 451: states that a person can be convicted of arson if they purposely and knowingly set fire to a park, forest, private property, private real estate, commercial structures and other public lands.
- Section (a): explains that arson that causes bodily harm to another person can be punished with jail time ranging from five to nine years.
- Section (b): explains that it is a felony for individuals to burn property that is ‘inhabited’ and can be punished with up to six years in prison.
- Section (c): explains that setting fire to a building structure or forest land is punishable with a felony.
- Section (d): explains that it is a felony to burn other people's property. It also describes that it is not illegal to burn one's own property unless the individual burns the property for fraudulent reasons.
- Section (e): explains that a prison sentence under arson will be added to an existing prison sentence
- California Penal Code 451.5: goes a step further adding that assistance in the burning of property or structures with premeditation can be charged as a felony. In addition, it states that an individual can be charged with an ‘aggravated arson’ if the defendant has a history of arson within the last ten years or if the arson has caused over 7 million in property damages. Furthermore, an aggravated arson is ruled when the fire has burned five or more residential or inhabited structures. Individuals who are charged with an aggravated arson may be looking at 10 years to life in prison.
- California Penal Code 452: this penal code explains that unlawful fires that burn structures, forest or other property, can be punished as a felony.
- Section (a): if the fire causes a bodily harm to another individual the defendant can face up to six years in county jail.
- Section (b): if an unlawful fire caused the burning of an inhabited building the punishment can include up to three years in prison and other fines may be applied.
- Section (c): If an unlawful fire led to the burning of a structure or forest the felony can be punished with up to three years in prison.
- Section (d): explains that unlawful fires affecting property can be charged with a misdemeanor.
- Section (e): if individuals are already a jail sentence, the punishments will be consecutive to the sentence the individual is currently serving.
- California Penal Code 453: this penal code explains that it is punishable by law for individuals to have, distribute, or produce material that is created with the intent to burn a building structure, public lands, or property. The possession or creation of an ‘incendiary device’ is punishable by months no longer than a year in county jail.
- California Penal Code 455: this penal code adds that ‘placing’ an incendiary device in a structure, forest, or other public/private property with the intent to cause a fire, is punishable with up to three years in prison.
- California Penal Code 457.1: establishes that arson is a violation of the above mentioned penal codes. This penal code also adds that individuals convicted of an arson felony will be required to register with the law enforcement agencies in their region or school (if they are attending college).
A court may order some of the following punishments for the following convictions:
- Causing great bodily harm to one or multiple individuals can be punished with up to 9 years in prison.
- Attempting or planning out a fire can be fined with up to three years in prison
- Setting a certain property on fire can be fined with up to three years in prison
- Setting on fire an inhabited building can be punished with up to eight years in prison
At any moment, any individual charged with arson for violation of the penal codes states above may be charged with a fine of up to $50,000. The fines and prison sentences can increase when there is a 1) history of arson, 2) when the fire has caused great bodily harm to multiple individuals, 3) when the fire has affected multiple buildings, 4) when the individual has used an incendiary device to plot a crime, 5) when firefighters or paramedics are hurt due to the incidental fire.
When deciding the right type of punishments the court will take into account the cost of human and the overall property damage that is caused by the fire. The prison sentence can range from a couple of months to a lifetime in prison especially property damage exceeds 7 million and more than one life is affected as a result of the fire. In other instances, an aggravated arson is a serious crime that can be punished with up to life in prison. In some courts, a person charged with aggravated arson will not be eligible for parole until after ten years.
Arson is a very serious crime that has the ability to affect many lives. Setting to a building, public space, forestland, or other private property has grave consequences. Aside from the consequences that can be calculated, a fire can cause incalculable damage to the environment. Wildfires can alter ecosystems, affecting animals and wild life that exists in the forest. In addition, arson can cause great harm to multiple individuals affecting the lives of victims forever. If you are being charged with arson, you should speak with an attorney to learn how the laws apply to your case. In some cases, you may be capable of proving that your actions were not intentional.
To avoid a wrong conviction you are encouraged to seek legal guidance and professional representation. In a courtroom, the prosecutor will attempt to place fault on individuals that are thought to have caused a fire. Fires can cause great damage to property which means that owners and other victims of arson are looking for monetary reparations. Whether or not you assisted with arson, an arson charge can have serious consequences. If you are charged with arson, you may contact Leah Legal today to schedule a consultation. Our offices can be reached at 818-484-1100.