Arson is a crime that includes malicious and willful burning of property. Facing charges for an Arson crime can be embarrassing, aggravating, and frightening. You may face jail or prison sentences, which could affect your life aspects. At the LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we believe everyone accused of Arson deserves the best defense possible. Our talented attorneys take a personal approach to guide you through all the stages of the legal process.
We work tirelessly, minimizing clients' chances of appearing in court or facing harsh penalties. We use all the possible methods at our disposal to fight for a favorable potential outcome. Additionally, We have handled many Arson cases in Los Angeles, and we are here for you when you need us.
Definition of Arson per California Law
Arson is any malicious, reckless, and willful act which sets fire on any property, structure, or forest land. Structures include home, commercial buildings, a tent, vehicles, and people. Alternatively, the property comprises documents, furniture, clothing, photographs, and appliances. However, setting fire doesn't mean destruction; it means any damage, no matter how minor it seems.
Arson is a severe crime attracting incarceration, registration as an offender, hefty fines depending on the case's circumstances. If you set the fire willingly and maliciously, then your case is charged as a felony. Alternatively, in case it caused the fire recklessly, it becomes a misdemeanor.
For instance, you establish a campfire then decide to cook food in the area containing posted signs prohibiting any fire, and then a strong wind comes by starting a fire. In the example, your conduct was reckless. When you deliberately decide to set fire intending to harm other people or property, you act maliciously.
Examples of Arson
Burning your apartment to receive insurance money
Burning another person's company as a revenge mechanism
Elements of an Arson Crime
The key elements which constitute Arson are:
Willful and Malicious Act
Willful and malicious acts involve the defendant acting in a deliberate, willingly, and purposely manner. The defendant may act with illegal intent to injury, annoy, or defraud someone else. For instance, when a person attempts to defraud their insurance provider. Alternatively, if you're burning garbage and the wind causes the residue catching fire to another person's roof, you won't face conviction under Penal Code 451 as you never acted with malice.
Property is an element of Arson. In this context, it means personal land or any other property rather than forest land. The property includes items such as clothing, documents, furniture, appliances, or photographs. It isn't an offense to burn personal property unless you conducted the crime to defraud or someone obtained injuries in the property.
Setting a fire includes burning either a portion or whole property. The law holds that starting a fire that will lead to smoke damage or small damages is considered setting the fire.
Structure and Forest Land
Under PC 451, a structure includes a tunnel, building, public or commercial tent, power plant, or a bridge. Therefore, fire damage to a fixture in a building is considered a structure when it is an essential building component.
Categories of Arson
California law places Arson under two major categories, malicious Arson and reckless Arson. However, aggravated is also a part of Arson. The three types are :
Under PC 451, malicious Arson is setting fire on forest land, a building, or any other property maliciously or wilfully. Additionally, malicious Arson can include the burning of vehicles, clothing, furniture, or land not considered forest land like a farm.
For the defendant to face conviction of malicious, the prosecution must prove the accused set fire on forest land, structure, or any other property and did so with a purpose or intent. 'Maliciously' means the defendant committed Arson intending to defraud, injure, or annoying another person.
The property doesn't need full destruction for the defendant to face the conviction. Malicious Arson constitutes setting fire to just a portion of the property. Furthermore, the property allegedly burned must belong to another person and not the defendant's property. However, the act becomes exceptional when the defendant burned their property in an attempt to defraud someone.
The difference from malicious Arson is, the defendant acted recklessly in causing the fire. For the defendant to face a reckless Arson conviction, the prosecutor must prove they set fire on forest land, a structure, or a property.
Under PC 452, someone is reckless when they knew or should have known their actions would result in a fire. Notably, the defendant ignored the risk, and their actions were different from a reasonable person in a similar situation.
However, 'reckless' in criminal law is different from negligence. For example, when someone threw a cigarette in an area of dry land, causing a fire would be considered reckless. The person should have known the probability of causing fire and still threw their cigarette in the dry land. Therefore they will be charged with reckless Arson.
Aggravated Arson is a type of Arson committed while a person is in the property or the building. Accordingly, aggravated involves a firefighter or a law enforcement officer who obtains disfigurement or bodily harm while investigating or fighting the fire. Aggravated Arson is punishable with severe consequences and punishments.
The defendant will face aggravated Arson conviction under the following situations:
More than one building burns.
The fire injured more than one person.
An injury incurred by emergency personnel like police officers or firefighters.
The defendant used a device in accelerating fire.
The defendant had a prior felony Arson conviction.
Penalties and Punishment for Arson Crimes
The different types of Arson are all charged under PC 451. In Los Angeles, penalties and punishment for Arson crimes vary according to the kind of the burned property and whether someone suffered a burn injury or not.
Burning a structure or forest land is chargeable under PC 451(c) by imprisonment for two to six years in state prison.
When the defendant burns a property that doesn't belong to them, they are punishable with imprisonment for sixteen months, two or three years in state prison.
A conviction for Arson, including severe bodily injuries, is punishable by imprisonment for five up to nine years in state prison.
Arson leading to damages of inhabited buildings or properties is a felony punished by imprisonment up to 8 years in state prison.
Alternatively, aggravated Arson is punishable for up to life imprisonment in jail.
Attempted Arson is punishable with imprisonment in state prison for up to three years.
Violating Arson laws in Los Angeles carries immigration penalties. Following the migration laws, crimes of turpitude cause non-citizen deportation or being marked inadmissible. Offenses of moral turpitude may include vile, dishonesty, and conduct, which shock a reasonable person. In California, Arson falls under the crimes of moral turpitude category.
Additionally, any person facing conviction of Arson can face a fine of up to 10,000 USD or 50,000 USD or twice the amount of the defendant's expected financial gain.
The defendant may be registered as an Arson offender for life if faced conviction as an adult.
The defendant may face a criminal strike record under the California 3 strikes law.
Notably, additional aggravating factors may lead to harsher penalties, including setting fire to a place of worship or you had a prior conviction within.
What Prosecutor Must Prove
For the defendant to face conviction, the prosecution must prove the following:
You had the intent of burning the property.
The defendant set the property on fire maliciously and willfully.
You set fire or burn on structure, forest land, or other property.
The defendant burned or attempted to burn a structure or a property belonging to another person.
You burned inhabited buildings or forest land.
Prove all the elements of Arson beyond a shadow of a doubt
Possible Defense for Arson Charges
Defenses for a charge of criminal Arson are difficult and challenging. However, when charged with an Arson crime, you should seek a criminal defense attorney familiar in defending Arson crimes. When prosecuted with Arson charges, you risk severe penalties, including imprisonment or deportation, if you are a non-citizen. A competent lawyer will argue your case leading to dismissal or reduction of the charges. Discussed below are the legal defenses against Arson charges that can help claim your innocence.
No Willful Act
You can only be guilty of Arson charges when you acted willfully. The defendant may show valid evidence they did not start the fire with a purpose. To face an Arson conviction, the prosecution must prove the defendant committed the crime with an intent and a purpose. When the prosecutors fail to prove the defendant did the act with a purpose, then they won't face a conviction of Arson. For instance, the defendant threw a cigarette out of the window and caught a nearby house on fire; they won't be convicted with Arson as they had no intention of burning the house.
An Accident Started the Fire
When you accidentally commit an Arson crime, without purpose or intent, you should not be convicted. The defendant may provide valid evidence the fire started accidentally. The prosecution must prove the defendant started the fire recklessly, maliciously, or willfully for them to be convicted.
You can't face conviction when the fire started by accident. However, the defense won't be valid when you begin fire due to intoxication or under the influence of drugs. An experienced defense lawyer will argue for the dismissal or reduction of the charges. A lawyer may argue, although the property completely burned, the defendant did it completely unintended, and it wasn't a criminal act.
You Didn't Start the Fire.
Something else other than the defendant could have resulted in the fire. Possible causes of the fire may include lighting, faulty wiring, cooking or heating appliances, and smoking. A competent defense lawyer could provide evidence on the cause of the fire, leading to the dismissal of your charges.
Lack of Sufficient Evidence
Many Arson crime cases are based on circumstantial evidence, without a witness. The circumstantial evidence includes:
A witness is testifying that they saw the defendant run from the fire scene before the fire started.
Having an aim based on financial issues.
Learning you conducted a study on how to start a fire.
Revenge after unfair termination of your employment.
Finding gasoline containers and any other substances which aid the start of the fire in your garage.
The physical evidence doesn't show the defendant began the fire. A competent lawyer will create a reasonable doubt the defendant is guilty and should not face a conviction of the crime. A qualified lawyer will challenge the prosecutor's evidence. The lawyer may argue the collection of the evidence was not according to the law.
For the defendant to face a conviction of Arson, the prosecutors must have enough evidence against them. Notably, the proof must be valid and properly acquired. The prosecution must prove the defendant performed the crime with a purpose or willful. Lack of sufficient evidence can lead to dismissal of your case.
Mistaken identity may happen when:
The defendant's physical appearance, clothing, or car happen to resemble the real perpetrator.
A person points at you to cover their criminal liability.
Finding the defendant's items at the crime scene.
A person assumes you are responsible for the crime.
Due to the public nature, law enforcement officers may face a lot of pressure leading to suspects' arrest. During the arrest process, the police may mistakenly arrest you. A video from a nearby camera and witness statement can show you were not the suspect. An experienced lawyer may argue that the defendant's arrest was a mistake, leading to the case's dismissal.
A false accusation is an unsubstantiated allegation of a crime without evidence to support whether it's true or not. In Arson cases, the defendant may face false accusations due to a variety of reasons. The accuser may accuse the defendant in an attempt for them to avoid prosecution. Additionally, the defendant may face false accusations due to anger, jealousy, or revenge. If your defense attorney can show the court, you faced false allegations, and your charges may be reduced.
You Acted Under Duress
Duress can serve as an excuse in defending Arson cases. Defendants may commit Arson as a result of threats or using physical force. The defendant should prove they had a reasonable fear with no alternative to performing the crime.
Defendants need to provide their evidence. For you to avoid conviction, the judge should ensure the defendant's evidence is strong and valid. It may be a challenge for the defendant to prove they never committed the crime.
An alibi is a legal term used to prove you were somewhere else when the crime occurred. The alibi is a common defense for Arson in California. The defendant may claim they were in different places when the criminal act occurred. Your defense attorney should prove your absence from the scene using the evidence you were somewhere else when the Arson occurred.
A judge will dismiss your charges if satisfied with the evidence. Alternatively, you require the help of a competent defense lawyer. The law Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer law firm has experienced lawyers providing the best outcomes for your case.
In California, the defendant cant face conviction if found illegally insane during the crime commission. If the defendant cannot distinguish right from wrong or doesn't understand the nature of their acts, due to mental incapacity, then criminal law may excuse the conduct.
It's common to be caught in traps nowadays. However, with our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers, they may argue the defendant performed the crime due to entrapment.
The defendant might commit the crime due to harassment, fraud, flattery, threats, or pressure from the police. However, it may be challenging to prove entrapment. When the defendant has evidence, it acts as a backup for their defense. Therefore, the charges may be reduced or dismissed.
Offenses Related To Arson
Alongside Arson are other related crimes. Below are the offenses commonly charged in conjunction with Arson:
Insurance fraud is the act of attempting to obtain insurance benefits and payments to which you were not otherwise entitled. Insurance fraud occurs when you intentionally set fire to your home, car, or other property intending to collect money from the insurance company.
For example, when you burn your home intending to get insurance proceeds, the prosecution considers the burning as insurance fraud and Arson. The charges will attract double the actual insurance returns.
Trespass refers to entering or staying with another person's property or land without permission to do so. Unlike Arson, trespass doesn't require the defendant to act with wilfulness and maliciousness.
Common acts prohibited by California laws include:
Entering any property to interfere with the business
Entering someone's property intending to damage the property
Occupying another person's property unlawfully
Taking dirt, stone, timber, and soil off someone's land without permission
Refusing screening in court and airports
Picking oysters off somebody's land
Failing to leave a public building during the hours when the building is closed regularly after an employee requests you to leave
The defendant may be charged with trespass and Arson if they unlawfully enter the land or property in which the fire originated.
Burglary is illegal entering a structure including residential, commercial, or any building or property intending to commit a felony inside. Notably, the entry into the structure does not require to be accomplished by force. Additionally, the access doesn't require violence threat or any destruction act.
In California, burglary is considered a wobbler, meaning depending on the crime circumstances, it is chargeable as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The difference between burglary and Arson is, burglary applies to residential and commercial buildings and does not include structures and forest land. You could be charged for both Arson and burglary when you enter a building intending to commit a malicious Arson while inside.
First-degree murder refers to the predetermined, deliberate, and willful killing of another person. In California, you may face charges of first-degree murder when:
You use explosives devices, poison, piercing ammunition, or weapons of mass destruction in the killing.
Upon being implicated of torturing the killed person
In case you were in the process of committing a specific felony, Arson when the death occurred.
First-degree murder has severe penalties. Once convicted of first-degree murder due to malicious Arson, the only possible sentencing outcome includes the death penalty or a life prison without the possibility of parole.
In Los Angeles, the county fire department conducts Arson investigations immediately after the crime occurs. However, other private and government authorities may get involved in the investigation for criminal prosecution insurance coverage. The authorities include:
California conference of Arson
California district attorney's association
Department of justice
State fire marshals and firearms Arson and bomb unit
The Arson investigations result will affect what the defendant faces accusations accused of and the charges' seriousness.
Upon conclusion, the defendant started the fire willfully and maliciously; they are chargeable with a felony or even a California strike. Alternatively, if the findings show the defendant recklessly caused the fire, they can face California misdemeanor charges.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
In California, Arson is charged as a felony with severe penalties and punishments. However, hiring a competent defense lawyer for your case is one of the most important decisions you should make. The LA criminal defense law firm Fights for all clients, no matter how intimidating and tedious the process is. Our defense lawyers will review your case and gather beneficial evidence.
We have successfully handled many Arson cases. Therefore, you can trust our experience and skills. Our defense lawyers evaluate every case and build the best possible defense strategies. We have many years of experience and a successful track record to serve your best interest in Los Angeles. Call us at 310-935-1675 and receive assistance on your case.