Arson as a property crime involves willful or malicious burning of another person’s property. Arsonists are often on a mission to either anger an individual, revenge for an action, or fraudulent missions where they want to obtain money from the insurance company. While many of the arson crimes committed involve damage to property like buildings, the perpetrator can also set fire on a forest land or a boat for personal satisfaction. Because arsonists do have malice or intent to cause harm or injuries, arson crimes under the arson statutes classify the crime as a felony with hefty punishment.
The most common target of arsonists are schools, educational facilities, and private property. The perpetrators maliciously set fire to a building or an entire property, leading to partial or full damage. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, arsonists willfully burn or attempt to burn with or without intent to defraud.
Statistically, law enforcement agencies recorded 43,249 arson crimes in just 6 to 12 months in 2016. The same year, the offenses had a 2.3 percent increase as compared to the 2015 data reported. This makes a significant growth in arson crime growth. At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will help evaluate your case and know the necessary steps to take to ensure a fair bargain for arson crime.
What Are the Most Frequent Arson Cases?
To know why arson was committed, first, you should understand the perpetrator's motive. Most of the time, arsonists can be family, friends, or common enemies on a mission. For an offender to commit such an offense, the motivation behind it could be:
- Crime concealment — Fires can be set up as a cover-up for murder, burglary, or eliminating evidence at a crime scene. In some cases, the fires destroy records to hide embezzlement of funds and theft to destroy evidence.
- Excitement — Some people can commit arson for the fun of it. These categories of people look for attention, recognition, and extreme thrills. Being the attention seekers, arsonists target places like dumpsters, vacant houses, and occupied buildings.
- Extremism — This factor is a motivation to drift an already-existing rift further. The rift can be social, political, or religious. For example, extremists do target abortion clinics and animal laboratories.
- Profit — Some arsonists commit a crime to benefit financially, either directly or indirectly. An offender can be a business competitor and decide to kick you out of the competition by setting fire to your business. Similarly, a family enemy may set your house on fire to send you packing from the neighborhood.
- Revenge mission — Fires can be set in retaliation for an injustice, perceived or otherwise. He or she can aim at your motor vehicle, residential property, or a business.
- Vandalism — Destruction of property arising from fires can be a motive by an individual or a group. Their aim in committing such a crime is to see you suffer so that they can rejoice in the damages caused. Schools and educational facilities are the significant targets of this motive. This arson happens when a common enemy wants to bring down an educational facility development like a library.
- Mental illness — Defined in other terms as pyromania, an insane person can mistakenly set fire to an apartment, business structure, or a rental property. Maybe they could be involved in reckless cigarette smoking that can be dropped and a paper catches fire, and an open field goes ablaze.
The motive behind the fire is what is used to prosecute an offender in a court of law. So, as a defendant, the prosecution must identify the reason for the crime for it to be evaluated as arson. It is proper to seek investigators to help you out with an arson crime.
What Are the Possible Signs of Arson?
Going by the arson crimes committed in the United States, Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can send its lawyers to represent you if arson signs are:
- A large amount of destruction resulting from the fire
- No 'V' burn pattern at the crime scene, unusual burn patterns, and high heat stress
- No accidental causes present
- Proof of forced entry
- Absence of valuable belongings
- Presence of the suspected perpetrator at unconnected fires
- The fire causing damage having a low burning point with an unidentifiable point of origin
- Multiple points of origin
- Existence of accelerants
- The distinct color of smoke
- Firefighters review of fire acting abnormally
- Damaged sprinkler systems
- Modifications at the burn scene, i.e., cloth trails, propped windows.
- Suspicious behavior of a property owner
Our team of competent attorneys will help you with the paperwork until you settle on the best bargain for the crime.
Major arson fires are a result of human activities in the outdoor space. The United States Department of Interior reports that people cause 90 percent of wildland fires. The leading causes are unattended campfires, burning debris, downed power lines, discarded cigarettes, and intentional acts. Please don't make it easy for arsonists to start a fire or make it spread to your building. Have these steps to reduce the chances of arson incidents:
- In the neighborhood of a building, keep leaves, shrubs, firewood, and other combustibles away.
- Have doors and windows of your building locked at all times. Whether the structure is occupied or unoccupied, ensure you keep safe. You can use deadbolt locks and have the key in a safe place for ease of access in a fire accident.
- Have a storage location for all your flammable liquids. Limit access to kids by locking paints, gasoline, and other liquids in cabinets, locked storage units, or locked garages. Additionally, keep the liquids away from sources of heat.
- Call the police or support Neighborhood Watch Programs when you see suspicious activity near your house or other buildings.
- For suspected arson crimes committed, you can contact a local fire or police department.
- In case you see a child setting fires or suspect, notify the relevant authorities. Maybe the child could be having a boiling issue or being used. Besides, matches and firelighters should be out of reach of children to prevent accidental fires.
Find Elements of Arson in Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm
As per the common laws, certain elements must be present to ascertain that the fire was caused by arson. These required elements are:
- Malicious action
- Actual burning
- Dwelling of another
- Belonging to another
In the previous years, the law confined arson to just damages on the property. The growth of the legal framework has changed the definition through the years. The description expands arson to include burning a person's property, vehicle, and land.
Therefore, the main arson elements are evidence of burning and the criminal act that caused the fire. The accused person must have had the intention to burn the building, property, or cause damage. The conduct must be malicious and not accidental, as described by the absent statutory description. However, in this context, malice does not imply ill will. Intentional or outrageous reckless behavior is enough to constitute malice.
What are the Degrees of Arson?
Many states divide arson into degrees according to the circumstances surrounding the act. The factors checked are the property's value, its use, or whether the crime occurred during the day or night. Additionally, factors like the reason for committing the fraud and the amount of damages caused by the crime can help in the evaluation process. The known degrees of arson are:
- First-degree arson — An act where a perpetrator sets fire in a dwelling place of another person or a building
- Second-degree arson — An act whereby a person sets fire to an empty or abandoned house or building
- Third-degree arson — This is where a person sets fire to an open space or field
On the other hand, some states group arson in forms. We have aggravated arson,
reckless arson and accidental fire.
In many states, including California, arson will be aggravated if the accused had malicious intent when causing the fire. Majorly, aggravated arson considers factors like did the person commit the crime anticipating that there was a person(s) inside the building when he or she started the fire. The significant causes of intent are financial stress, anger, and other emotional motives.
In some cases, aggravated arson can be seen as first-degree arson because it may include burning a building to defraud an insurance company of some settlement or intentionally setting fire to harm an individual or cause fear.
Having reckless behavior may warrant someone's arson charges. More so if the behavior leads to the destruction of property. So arson is not all about the intentional setting of fires alone.
If you happen to cause fire damages in prohibited places because of your reckless behavior, you can be subjected to criminal charges that may require you to pay the high cost of fire suppression.
Many people tend to think that all fires fall into the category of arson. It's not what you think. Some of these fires can be because of accidental causes. A person may try to be careful, but a fire accident can occur. For example, a nanny goes to warm milk on the stove, and accidentally, the curtain next to the furnace picks up the fire that quickly spreads into the house. In as much as its fire, she was neither reckless nor intentional in setting the fire.
In cases like this, investigative agencies have a lot to do. They have to determine the fire's actual cause, whether it was a result of an intentional act or accidental. If the reason may prove challenging to find, they can deem it suspicious and proceed with an arson investigation.
Arson elements must all be verified for the offender to be convicted, to prove that a person perpetrated an arson act,. On many occasions, this is not a simple matter. It can be a daunting task that can only be handled at Orange County criminal defense attorney law firm.
Why is Arson Investigation Difficult?
An arson investigation is majorly conducted to determine the fire's cause and ensure that the guilty person is brought to book. For better performance, arson investigators are retired firefighters or professionals with in-depth knowledge of matters fires. They know the types of fuels, how each lights up and accelerates, and how each impacts a fire’s development.
The investigation starts when the firefighters arrive at the scene to put off the fire, following distinct protocols. They help in giving explanations on their observations about the fire at the time of arrival. The investigators review the scene and physical evidence and interview witnesses to grasp vital information. Important considerations put are:
- Color of flames and smoke — Different fuels or substances ignite in specific ways and exhibit different colors of flames and smoke.
- Alarms and sprinklers — The investigator checks the alarms and sprinklers' location before the accident and whether they were on or off before the fire.
- Speed of fire — The speed at which the fire spread can give a pointer to the possible use of accelerants
- Suspect at the fire — This is to show that the accused was present or absent at the fire scene.
- Removal of property — It indicates if there were valuable items removed from the premise before the fire incident occurred to show intent
- Condition of door and windows at the fire scene
After establishing all these factors, the investigator will look for other physical documents for documentation purposes. They look into all these considerations to reconstruct the event later on using scientific methods to prove or disapprove if it is arson.
Is an Arson Investigator Necessary?
If you suspect that the fire that burnt your property is because of malice, you may need an investigator. However much you may be certain that it is arson, it must be proved beyond any reasonable doubt. An investigator is ideal when:
- You or a family member is accused of arson — In this case, you have to hire a qualified investigator to help you with evidence that can support a court of law. You will have to provide supporting proof for your case to succeed in a trial.
- You are a victim of the fire — Losing a property to an inferno can emotionally and financially destabilize a person. However, if you foresee foul play, seek the services of an experienced arson investigator. He or she will lead you in knowing if the fire was out of malice or accident and help you save money, and give answers to your disturbing questions. Even if you're not suspicious, the investigator can help you secure full compensation from the insurance company.
- If you are an insurer — Insurance companies are victims of arson fraud summing up to billions annually. In some scenarios, property owners set fires to collect insurance money deliberately. Having a fire investigator can help determine the fire's cause and fasten insurance changes to see whether the policyholder deserves compensation rightfully.
Penalties for Arson
Going by the different States, arson crime is divided according to the different degrees of severity. Orange County (CA) spells out penalties depending on factors like the type of property burnt, whether the fire resulted from intention or reckless behavior, and whether the fire injured a person.
Penal Code § 452 PC in the county puts reckless burning of personal property to be a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in jail or $1,000 in fines. However, suppose the fire caused a bodily injury or burnt a building or forest land. In that case, the crime can be prosecuted before an Orange County Court as a misdemeanor or felony case. Other potential sentences are:
- Arson crime of burning a building or forest land — Up to six months in county jail or 16 months, two or three years in state prison for felony offenses
- If a fire burns a personal dwelling building or property — Up to one year in a county jail for a misdemeanor, two, three, or up to four years in state prison for a felony
- If a fire causes personal injury — Up to one year in a county jail for a misdemeanor, two, four, or six years in state prison for felony offenses
The act of arson is always a felony offense under Penal Code § 451 PC punishable by a fine of $10,000 or up to three years in prison. This sentence is for defendants whose property has been burnt as a result of arson. It goes up to six years in prison if a vacant structure or forest is burned, up to nine years if the arson act caused bodily harm to a person.
If the prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the fire was for financial gain, you may face an additional fine of $50,000 or twice the amount you anticipated in your financial gain.
If a defendant is charged on aggravated arson crime grounds, they may face an additional one to five years in prison if the following factors were present:
- If the defendant has a prior arson conviction
- If multiple structures, both residential and commercial, were burned
- If a firefighter or another person(s) providing emergency care suffered bodily harm during the fire incident
- More than one person got great bodily harm during the fire.
- The defendant used an explosive device.
Besides, if a defendant was found to have caused the fire out of malice, a felony conviction is inevitable. The sentence may be considered a strike offense under California's 'Three Strikes' sentencing law.
How Felony Sentence Enhancements Works?
California has a sentence law, theThree Strikes Law, pegged on the habitual behavior of an offender. It imposes harsh prison sentences on felony perpetrators with previous encounters of serious or felony convictions termed as strike offenses in the state's record.
Under this law, a defendant who had a strike conviction is convicted of arson felony could make him or her face double the prison sentence required by the law. In addition, a defendant with two or more strike convictions and again convicted of felony arson automatically faces a prison sentence amounting to 25 years to a lifetime.
However, other factors can contribute to enhanced penalties on an arson conviction. For example, if you happen to be in the process of committing arson and accidentally kills someone, you could be charged with murder under Penal Code § 187 PC and also felony murder rule under SB 1437.
The new rule, a result of the new senate bill signed into law in 2018, applies to defendants who happen to kill an individual while committing arson or attempted to commit arson or committed the crime when attempting to commit a felony act or a defendant who played a pivotal role in a felony case and had reckless behavior to human life.
Find an Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm Specializing in Arson Crime Near Me
Several losses are incurred when an arson crime is committed, and severe punishment is meted on the perpetrator. We can help you evaluate the case to see the possible defense strategies we can adopt.
Seek help with our team of lawyers who ensures you rest while the attorneys attend to your case on your behalf. If it happens that you were injured during the fire incident, there's a need to rest as we follow the defendants and the court proceedings till the end.
At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, high profile lawyers with a proven record await you. Our aggressive team is ready to work tirelessly around the clock to ensure the best possible outcome. Don't hesitate to reach us. We are prepared to serve you.
Call us today at 714-740-7848 at any hour to get help with your fire queries. We are eager to help and ensure you get the best services Orange County has to offer.