Facing an Arson Charge
Simply put, arson is a
criminal offense that involves intentionally setting buildings, land, cars and other property
on fire. It is a
federal offense and taken very seriously in the United States. Arson is committed with
the intention to cause damage or harm. Unlike spontaneous combustion or
a natural wildfire, arson is deliberate and malicious. Sometimes, arson
is committed to destroy property; other times, people intentionally set
fire to their property with the hopes of collecting financial compensation
from their insurance company.
The Four Elements of Arson
In order for an individual to commit arson, four elements must be involved.
According to common law, arson must be malicious, intentional, involve
a dwelling, and involve someone else's property. A common law states
that "malicious" refers any action that creates a great risk.
For instance, if someone intentionally sets a house on fire, the occupants
of the house would be put at great risk. Similarly, many land fires place
homes, businesses, agricultural crops and other valuable piece of property
at risk. In other words, an individual may be guilty of arson even if
he/she did not intend to set a dwelling on fire. If a dwelling is put
in danger by the fire, then he/she may be convicted of arson.
According to common law, if any portion of a building or dwelling is charred,
it has been burned. Burning does not refer to surface damage. Additionally,
burning an unoccupied building does not carry the same level of offense
as burning a dwelling. Generally speaking, a dwelling refers to an individual's
place of residence. Dwellings may include structures, outbuildings and
other piece of property associated with someone's home; it does not
necessarily refer to a house. For example, if a barn was occupied as a
dwelling, it could be considered a dwelling. A dwelling is not considered
unoccupied until the residence of the building leave without the intention
Arson in California
In the United States, arson laws vary depending on the jurisdiction. For
instance, in some places the dwelling element is not required. In California,
arson law is an expansion of common law. In California, arson must be
willful. Accidentally starting a forest fire doesn't necessarily mean
that an individual has committed arson. You cannot commit arson in California
by burning down your own home - unless the crime is committed with the
intention of collecting fraudulent insurance money. However, if an individual
sets his/her house on fire and damages someone else's property (including
forest land), he/she may be charged with arson.
In California, certain arson cases may be considered aggravated. If conceived
of aggravated arson, you may be subjected to an elevated offense. Previous
arson convictions may elevate the charge. If you are facing allegations
of arson and were convicted of the same offense within the last decade,
your charges may be enhanced to aggravated arson instead. Also, if more
than $6.5 million dollars in property is damaged or more than five dwellings
are damaged, the crime may be considered aggravated arson.
What are the consequences?
If convicted or arson or aggravated arson, you may be subject to harsh
penalties. In California, you may be sentenced to five, seven or nine
years in prison if a person is injured in the fire. If someone's home
or dwelling was damaged, you may be subject to three, five or eight years
in a federal prison. Burning a forest is punishable by two, four or six
year in prison and aggravated arson is punishable by a life-time prison
sentence. At the firm, we understand the fear and uncertainty of facing
a criminal charge. If you're facing criminal allegations,
contact us today and see what an attorney form the firm can do for you. For years
we have helped people by giving them the top-notch legal representation
they need and are ready to help you. Call today and see what an attorney
from Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich can do for your case.