Are you facing criminal charges for arson in Los Angeles? If so, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. The crime of arson is a serious offense, and a conviction will change your life forever. In some cases, you may even be required to register with the state as a convicted arsonist, which will make it difficult to secure gainful employment, rent or buy a home, and ultimately care for yourself and your family. You have the power to fight the criminal charges against you, and The Rodriguez Law Group can help. Call our Los Angeles arson defense attorneys today for immediate legal assistance.
What is Arson?
Arson is the legal term to describe the act of using fire to destroy and/or damage property. In California, the crime of arson, as defined in Penal Code 451 PC, occurs when you:
- Set fire to or burn a structure, forest land, or property, and
- Act willfully and maliciously.
In order to be convicted of arson in Los Angeles, the prosecution must be able to prove each element of the crime. It is important to understand what each of the elements of arson means, and what must be proven to convict you of this crime.
Set Fire to or Burn
The prosecution must prove that you set fire to or burned a structure, forest land, or property. In California, this simply means that they must prove that you used fire to damage or destroy something. The extent of the damage is irrelevant. Even the slightest degree of damage can satisfy this element.
Structure, Forest Land, or Property
In order to be convicted of arson, the prosecution must establish that you set fire to a structure, forest land, or property. How are these targets of arson defined? A structure is defined to mean any building, bridge, tunnel, power plant, or commercial or public tent. Forest land is defined to mean brush-covered land, cut-over land, forest, grasslands, or woods. Property is broadly defined to include any personal property other than land.
In California, you can be charged with arson for setting fire to your own property or belongings. However, to be convicted it must be proven that you acted with a fraudulent intent. For example, setting your own property on fire to recover insurance benefits would be an example of arson for a fraudulent intent.
Willful and Malicious Behavior
Your intent is incredibly important when you are facing charges for arson. In order to be convicted of arson under Penal Code 451 PC you must act willfully and maliciously. This basically means that you acted:
- Intentionally and with purpose, and
- With unlawful intent to defraud, injure, or annoy.
If the prosecution cannot prove that you acted willfully and maliciously you can still face criminal charges for reckless arson under Penal Code 452 PC.
Crimes of Arson
Simple arson, which is also known as malicious arson, is not the only crime of arson in California. In certain circumstances, you could face reduced charges for reckless arson or aggravated charges for aggravated arson. In fact, you could even face criminal charges for attempted arson even if your crime is unsuccessful.
- You commit an act that presents a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire;
- You ignore that risk; and
- Your conduct is a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would have done in the same situation.
For example, let’s say you are smoking a cigarette at a friend’s home and decide to dispose of the cigarette butt in a trash can in the bathroom without smothering it or ensuring that it is no longer lit. Moments later the cigarette butt causes the trash can to ignite with flames. Your friend’s entire bathroom is destroyed by the fire. You could face charges for reckless arson because a reasonable person in the same situation would have known that throwing a hot cigarette butt into a dry trash can created an unjustifiable risk of a fire. A reasonable person would have ensured that the cigarette butt was no longer hot or ignited before disposing of it.
If you commit the crime of arson and certain aggravating factors are present, you can face additional criminal penalties for your actions. Examples of situations that may warrant criminal charges for aggravated arson include:
- Causing great bodily harm or death;
- Acting with the specific intent to harm another person;
- Setting fire to or burning an inhabited structure;
- Setting fire to or burning multiple structures; and/or
- Causing property damage in excess of $7 million.
In Los Angeles, you can also face criminal charges for attempting to unlawfully set fire to or burn a structure, forest land, or property. If you are suspected of trying to commit arson and are found in possession of accelerants, matches, or other tools used in arson, the prosecution may have sufficient evidence to charge with attempted arson under California Penal Code 455 PC.
Penalties for Arson
What are the criminal penalties associated with arson in Los Angeles? The answer will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of each individual case. Malicious arson, reckless arson, aggravated arson, and attempted arson each carry distinct criminal penalties.
Malicious Arson Penalties
Malicious arson is a felony offense in Los Angeles, carrying a term of imprisonment in a California state prison and up to $10,000 in fines. The term of imprisonment that can be imposed in your case will depend on the target of your crime.
Malicious arson of personal property: 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison.
Malicious arson of a structure or forest land: 2, 4, or 6 years in prison.
Malicious arson of an inhabited structure or property: 3, 5, or 8 years in prison.
Malicious arson causing great bodily injury: 5, 7, or 9 years in prison.
Reckless Arson Penalties
Reckless arson can be a misdemeanor or a felony offense in Los Angeles. The specific charge you face, as well as the potential consequences, will depend on the specific details of your case. Misdemeanor cases of reckless arson, which generally stem from the reckless burning of personal property, are punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and $1,000 in fines. The following types of reckless arson can be charged as felonies in Los Angeles:
Reckless arson of a structure or forest land: 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in prison.
Reckless arson of an inhabited dwelling or structure: 2, 3, or 4 years in prison
Reckless arson causing great bodily harm: 2, 4, or 6 years in prison.
If you are convicted of arson in Los Angeles and certain aggravating factors exist, your criminal sentence can be increased with additional and consecutive penalties. Your criminal sentence may be extended by a term of one to five years if you are convicted of arson and:
- A first responder (e.g., firefighter, police officer, EMT) suffers a great bodily injury;
- Two or more people suffer a great bodily injury;
- You set fire to or burned multiple structures; or
- You have been convicted for arson within the past 10 years.
Your criminal sentence will be extended to a minimum of 10 years (with the possibility of life) if you are convicted of arson, intended to injure another person or inhabited structure, and
- The arson caused property damage of more than $7 million;
- You set fire to or burned more than 5 structures; or
- You have been convicted for arson within the past 10 years.
Registering as an Arson Offender
The following arson convictions will require you to register with the state of California as an arson offender:
- Malicious arson or attempt to commit malicious arson;
- Aggravated arson carrying a minimum criminal sentence of 10 years; and
- Possession of flammable or combustible materials in connection with your crime of arson.
Registering as an arson offender in California is similar to registering as a sex offender. You will be required to keep the government registry updated with your name, address, and other personal information for the rest of your life. When crimes of arson are committed, fire and law enforcement agencies may consult this registry to narrow down the possible list of suspects.
Defending Charges of Arson
When you are formally charged with a crime in Los Angeles you have the right to defend yourself. This means that you can assert any legal defense that helps to explain, excuse, and/or justify your alleged conduct. Hiring an attorney to handle these arguments will increase your chances of a successful outcome. When legal defenses are argued property the prosecution will have a more difficult time building a solid case against you. This can help your attorney negotiate a reduction or dismissal of the charges you face. Defenses that may be helpful in your criminal arson case include:
- False accusation;
- Mistaken identity;
- Lack of intent;
- No property was destroyed or damaged;
- Ownership of the property; or
- Accidental fire or burning.
Experienced Los Angeles Arson Defense Attorney
Are you facing criminal charges for arson in Los Angeles? Do not hesitate to contact The Rodriguez Law Group for immediate legal assistance. Our team, led by former prosecutor Ambrosio E. Rodriguez, understands that a conviction will affect every aspect of your life and future. We will fight to minimize the consequences of your arrest and get the best possible outcome in your case.
Call us today to schedule your free consultation. We will review your case, explain your legal rights, and answer any questions you have. The prosecution will begin to build its criminal case as soon as you are arrested, so do not hesitate to call our Los Angeles arson defense attorneys.