California Penal Code section 451 defines arson as the act of willfully and maliciously setting fire to any structure, whether residential or commercial, forest land or property. Those who aid, counsel, or hire someone else to start an illegal fire can also be charged with arson. The penalties for arson are severe. Arson is charged as a felony in California and carries prison sentences ranging from 16 months to a lifetime in state prison, depending upon the circumstances. Fines of up to $50,000 or more may be imposed, and the offender will be required to register with law enforcement authorities as an arsonist.
California recognizes two types of arson: simple arson or aggravated arson. Simple arson may be charged when a defendant willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burned a structure, forest, land, or property. Aggravated arson, on the other hand, may be charged if the defendant willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burned a structure with the intent to injure someone, or to damage property which would likely injure someone. Also, the fire must have caused damage specified sum, or the fire damaged/destroyed five or more inhabited structures.
Arson charges, no matter the surrounding circumstances, are very serious criminal allegations. This charge is almost always filed as a felony charge. Because arson is considered such a serious crime, if you or someone you know has been arrested for arson you should move quickly to retain a qualified criminal defense attorney that can assist with your defense.
Arson Legal Penalties
Arson is a complicated crime with varying levels of severity in punishments for each case. There are many factor s to consider when assessing the legal consequences of an arson conviction. Generally, penalties and specific charges that a defendant may face will depend upon whether injury occurred, what was destroyed and the defendant’s criminal history. As a result, an arson conviction may result in the following legal punishment:
- Arson of property is a felony punishable by imprisonment in state prison for 16 months, two, or three years.
- Arson of a structure or forest land is a felony punishable with a state prison term of two, four or six years.
- Arson that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for three, five, or eight years.
- Arson that causes great bodily injury is a felony punishable with a state prison term of five, seven, or nine years.
- Aggravated arson can result in 10 years to life in state prison.
- “Sentence Enhancements” (an increase to the amount of time a defendant serve) may be added to the sentence depending on the circumstances of the offense.