In California Arson and Unlawfully Causing a Fire are proscribed by Penal Code §§ 451 and 452, respectively. PC §451 prohibits the intentional and malicious setting fire to or burning of structures, forest land, and property; whereas PC §452 punishes the same when committed recklessly.
In California, Arson and all the related crimes are aggressively prosecuted, and a conviction may result in incarceration, registration as an arson offender. These consequences can have a serious effect on employment opportunities, eligibility for government assistance, and more. Speak with an experienced San Diego Criminal Attorney to secure the best possible defense and outcome in your case.
Elements of Simple Arson, Aggravated Arson, & Unlawfully Causing a Fire:
To be convicted of Simple Arson (PC §451), the Prosecutor must prove two separate elements:
1. You set fire to or burned a structure, forest land, or property (real or personal, other than structures or forest land).
• Total destruction is not required – any fire damage or destruction resulting, no matter how small, is sufficient.
• Forest land is land covered in brush, partly cleared, forested, or wooded.
• Structures include tents (commercial and public), buildings, bridges, or power plants.
• You may be guilty of Arson even if you burn trash that does not belong to anyone because a person’s ownership of the damaged or destroyed property is not an element of Arson.
2. You acted willfully and maliciously;
• Willfully means purposely or intentionally.
• Maliciously means doing a wrong or illegal act intending to harm another, their property, or their property interests.
? Aggravated Arson (PC §451.5) – The Prosecutor must prove:
A. You acted willfully, maliciously, deliberately, and with premeditation;
i. Acting deliberately means that you carefully thought about the consequences of your actions, and knowing those consequences committed the arson.
ii. Acting with premeditation means that you decided to commit the arson before actually carrying out the act.
iii. Note: The test is the extent of thought about the act and consequences, not the length of time ? A decision made spontaneously or impulsively, and without careful reflection, is not a deliberate and premeditated decision. Whether there was deliberation and premeditation is dependent on the person and circumstances.
B. You acted purposely to: (i) injure one or more people; (ii) damage property under circumstances that would likely also injure 1 or more people; or (iii) damage an inhabited structure or dwelling;
AND (Alternatively, C, D, or E)
C. You’ve been previously convicted of violating §451 in the past 10 years.
D. The fire caused at least $6.5 million in damage cumulatively.
E. 5 or more inhabited structures were damaged due to the fire.
Arson cases cane some particularly complicated, requiring investigations independent of the DA’s own experts. Speak with an experienced criminal attorney who can help guide you through your Arson case.To be convicted of Unlawful (Reckless) Arson (PC §452), the Prosecutor must prove that you recklessly set fire to or burned a structure, forest land, or property.
? Recklessness is defined as being aware that:
A. Your actions pose a considerable and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire;
B. Even though you’re aware of the risk, you ignore it; and
C. Ignoring that risk grossly deviates from how a reasonable person would have reacted in the same situation
? Note: Recklessness is alternatively defined as:
A. Taking actions that pose a considerable and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire; BUT
B. You weren’t conscious of the risk of fire due to your voluntary intoxication (willfully drinking alcohol or taking drugs knowing their intoxicating effects).
An experienced San Diego criminal lawyer is essential to preserving your rights and ensuring that your arson case ends promptly and with the best possible disposition.
Gedulin & Greany have helped clients facing serious felony charges such as Arson and aggravated arson. These cases are prosecuted vigorously by the DA’s office and must be taken on with experience and commitment to a good defense. Speak with a criminal lawyer today about the best way to proceed with your case.