What Is Reckless Burning in California?

California has experienced an unprecedented number of fires over the past decade and, along with them, great loss. The reduce the number of wildfires and minimize destruction, the state has implemented strict arson laws. In fact, the laws are so harsh that accidentally causing a fire is a criminal offense. The state refers to this offense as “reckless burning.”

What Is the Legal Definition of Reckless Burning?

California Penal Code 452 defines reckless burning and its consequences. Per the code, reckless burning occurs when a person sets fire to any forest land, property or structure. The setting of the fire need not be intentional but rather, only reckless.

What Constitutes As Reckless?

For the prosecution to convict a person of the crime of reckless burning, it must prove that the defendant acted in a reckless manner. It is important to note that “reckless” is a strict legal standard and is not synonymous with negligence or carelessness. For a person’s actions to be considered reckless, the following must be true:

  • The defendant was aware that his or her actions created an inexcusable risk of starting a fire.
  • The defendant ignored that risk.
  • In ignoring the risk, the defendant’s actions grossly deviated from those any reasonable person would have taken in the same situation.

Though true accidents can and have resulted in costly wildfires, persons who start fires accidentally are not guilty of a crime.

What Are the Penalties for Reckless Burning?

If a person’s reckless behavior results in the burning of personal property, he or she faces misdemeanor charges. A conviction of this nature may result in a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a county jail term of up to six months.

However, if the behavior results in the burning of forestland or structures, or if it causes great bodily harm, the offense is elevated to a “wobbler offense.” A wobbler offense is one that toes the line between a misdemeanor and a felony. When reckless arson is a wobbler offense, the consequences vary based on the rashness of the defendant’s actions and the extent of damages. However, wobbler offenses of this nature typically result in hefty fines and between 16 months and six years in county jail or state prison.

What Are Defenses to Reckless Burning?

There are a few viable legal defenses to reckless burning charges. The most effective defense attempts to disprove the most important element of the crime: the reckless nature. If a defendant can prove that he or she acted negligently but not recklessly, the state does not have a case.

Another strong defense is lack of probable cause. The police must have probable cause to arrest or detain a suspect in a criminal case. If the authorities did not have probable cause, any evidence obtained following the improper arrest is inadmissible in legal proceedings.

A third and final defense involves false allegations. Though rarely successful, obtaining reduced or dismissed charges based on this defense is possible.

Reckless burning charges in California are serious and come with severe consequences. If you face such charges, get in touch with a criminal defense attorney right away. Schedule your free consultation with Dan E. Chambers of the Chambers Law Firm today by submitting an online request.

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