Most criminal statutes define arson as the act of intentionally setting fire to or burning a structure or building. Some states recognize different degrees of arson, which may indicate whether the structure was occupied at the time of the fire, or if the fire was started to fraudulently collect on insurance. Arson is typically charged along with other crimes and may be classified as a hate crime.
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Arson cases are often opened following the burning of a home, commercial building or automobile. Arson may be suspected if firefighters notice a peculiar burn pattern, or they may be brought up by an insurance company.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, in 2007, fires linked to arson:
- destroyed $878 million worth of property;
- killed 295 civilians
- were primarily started as vandalism (86%)
- were caused equally by minor and adult defendants
Sentencing for arson charges depends on a number of factors, including the type of structure set fire to, motivation behind the offense, criminal record of the defendant and whether or not the fire resulted in any casualties.
Even if no personal harm was done, judges may be able to compound the charges by associating other crimes, such as terrorism or hate crimes.
Legislators in Washington are currently trying to establish a national registry for convicted arsonists. This could mean that, if convicted of arson charges, your name could show up on a publicly accessible database, similar to the sex offender registry.
Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have been arrested or charged for arson, speak with a criminal defense lawyer to learn more about the charge and the penalties you may face if convicted. With a defense attorney, you can figure out possible defenses in your case.
The above summary of arson is by no means all-inclusive and is not intended to provide legal advice. Laws may have changed since our last update. For the latest information on arson laws, speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area.