Arson

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 of returning.

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.

Aggravated 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.