When fire ravages a home, or destroys your property, it’s often an unfortunate accident. If someone is hurt, or killed, then an accident becomes a tragedy. However, not every fire is a result of an out-of-control cigarette butt, or an accident in the kitchen. Sometimes fires are set deliberately, and when that happens the resulting crime is referred to as arson.
Arson is a serious crime, and it’s one that seems quite specific at a glance. The common law definition of arson (the one that our modern definitions are built on) was the malicious burning or exploding of the dwelling house of another, or the burning of a building within the curtilage, the immediate surrounding space, of the dwelling of another. Over the years, though, that definition has expanded to include the burning of any structure or commercial property, regardless of owner, as long as the property is insured in some way. Homes, sheds, cars, or even a block of apartment buildings all fall under the categories of things you can’t burn.
It seems pretty simple. If you don’t want to commit arson, then don’t set fire to anything on purpose, and with a malicious intent. However, arson is often more complicated than it looks from a glance at the surface.
Varying Degrees of Arson
Arson, like many crimes in our modern criminal justice system, can be committed by degrees. The more serious the circumstances of the arson, the more serious the punishment the arsonist will receive if convicted. For example, a minor degree of arson would be if someone scorched a building, but did very little, or no, permanent damage to it. A major degree of arson would be if someone burned down an occupied home, with the intent of committing insurance fraud on top of murder.
So what determines the degree of arson someone has committed? That will depend on the state, and on the circumstances surrounding the crime. For example, arson will often be considered more serious when it affects more valuable property. It is a more serious crime if people were injured, and more serious still if someone died as a result of the arson. Arson committed in furtherance of other crimes, such as to murder a resident of the structure, or to cover up evidence of crimes that had already been committed, is also a more serious offense.
Arson committed by itself is bad enough. Arson that’s connected to other offenses means that, not only will the degree of arson you’re charged with be worsened, but that you’ll still be charged with the additional crimes as well.
Building Your Defense Against Arson Charges
If you find yourself accused of arson, the first thing you need to do is hire an attorney to protect you, and your rights during the proceedings. Once you have a representative on your side, the next thing to do is to figure out the specific elements of arson, and the different degrees it can be committed within your jurisdiction. Once you have that information, you need to disprove as many elements of the crime in your circumstance as possible.
For example, if you didn’t set a fire maliciously or recklessly, then the resulting blaze was likely an accident instead of a crime. Those are the kinds of facts you will need to bring up in your defense, and prove, in order for arson to be disproved, and for you to walk away from the charges brought against you.
Arson is a serious crime. If you find yourself mixed up in an arson investigation, then contact us for expert legal representation. We will protect you, and your rights, while ensuring you have the best defense the law allows.