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Understanding California’s Arson Laws

April 30, 2020

Willfully and maliciously burning a structure, forest land or property may be charged as arson under California law.

Understanding California’s Arson Laws

In a state that regularly faces raging wildfires, it is little wonder that the crime of arson is taken so seriously. A person who commits this crime may be sent to California state prison for up to 9 years. So what exactly is the crime of arson?

As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, CA can explain, California law makes it a crime for a person to set fire to any structure, forest land, or property. To be convicted, the prosecutor must show that the person acted willfully or maliciously. Willfully means that the person acted on purpose. Maliciously means that a person intentionally committed a wrongful act, or that they acted with the unlawful intent to defraud, annoy, or injure someone else. For the purpose of California’s arson laws, the prosecutor does not have to prove that the item in question actually burned down. No matter how small the damage is, if a person willfully and maliciously set the fire, they can be charged with arson.

So how does this play out in real life? For example, if you set fire to n your own property, are you guilty of arson? As a general rule, if you set fire to your own property, you cannot be charged with arson, unless the burning was done with an intent to defraud or if someone was injured as a result. In this situation, whether you are charged with arson will depend on your intent and whether someone was injured as a result of the fire. If you set fire to your own house because you wanted to collect insurance money, then you will likely be charged with arson. However, if you did a controlled burn of your own trash, then you probably won’t be charged with arson — as long as no one was hurt.

There are a number of potential defenses to arson that a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, CA may utilize. For example, if you started a fire accidentally, such as by knocking over a candle, then you cannot be charged with arson since you did not act willfully. Similarly, if the fire was started by something else, like faulty wiring, then you also cannot be charged with arson because you didn’t set the fire.

Arson carries serious criminal penalties. It is a felony in California, with the punishment based on the type of property that was burned and whether or not suffered an injury. For malicious arson of personal property, the potential sentence ranges from 16 months to 3 years in California state prison. For malicious arson of a structure or forest land, the sentence ranges from 2 to 6 years in prison. If a malicious arson causes an inhabited structure or property to burn, then the sentence may be 3 to 8 years in prison. Finally, if a person suffers great bodily injury, then the sentence will be between 5 and 9 years in California state prison.

If you have been charged with arson, then you will need a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, CA who can put together a strong defense to the charges against you. The Chambers Law Firm represents individuals throughout Southern California who have been charged with all types of California crimes, including arson. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation.

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