Fire has significant destructive powers. Accordingly, fire can cause severe damage to wildlife and property and can cause severe injury and even death. California is particularly vulnerable to the destructive forces of fire, as its wildfires cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually in control, clean up, and repair efforts. Due in part to California's vulnerability to fire, arson is a heavily prosecuted crime. Under California law, arson is defined as the willful and malicious setting on fire of any structure, property, or forestland. This law also covers the facilitating, or aiding and abetting of a fire set unlawfully. Under California Penal Code § 451, arson is always a felony offense. The punishments for arson vary widely. Depending on under which statute you are being charged, what you set fire to, and what the effects were of that act of arson, you could face as little as 16 months but as much as forty years in a state prison. For this reason, you should consult with an experienced attorney immediately if you are facing arson charges.
If you set fire to a piece of property, you will face 16 months, two, or three years in a state prison. If you set fire to an uninhabited structure or forestland, you will face two, four, or six years in a state prison. If you set fire to and burn an inhabited property or structure, you will face three, five, or eight years in a state prison. If someone was severely injured in your act of arson, you will face five, seven, or nine years in a state prison. In light of certain aggravating circumstances, your sentence could increase by three to five years in a state prison. For example, if more than one person was severely injured, if you had a prior arson offense, if you set fire to more than one structure, or if you used a device to facilitate or delay ignition, such as an explosive, you will face a sentencing enhancement, resulting in a longer prison sentence. Another type of arson, while still a serious charge, results from reckless behavior rather than malice. This is generally termed as reckless arson. Reckless arson may be charged as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. Of course there are exceptions to this rule. Reckless arson may be charged as a felony offense if you caused someone great bodily injury, you burned an inhabited structure or property, or if you set fire to a structure or forestland. The punishments for reckless arson vary greatly. Since it is a wobbler offense, the facts and circumstances of the case and the defendant's criminal record will determine how it will be charged.
Arson charged under federal law carries with it a must harsher sentence. If you damage or destroy property involved in foreign or interstate commerce, you can face between five and twenty years in a state prison. If, as a result of your arson prosecuted under federal law someone was injured, you can face between seven and forty years in a state prison. If you are facing arson charges under federal law, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Federal law is complex and could put you in prison for several decades so it is imperative you plan your defense strategically to give yourself the best chance at a reduced sentence. As you can see, arson is a serious charge both at the state and federal level. If you are facing arson charges, it is important you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. In California, arson is a highly publicized crime that garners significant attention from the media when it occurs, especially when it contributes to wildfires or is substantially damaging. For this reason, it is important you know how to fight your charges in court. While arson is heavily prosecuted, the facts and circumstances of your case may warrant a lesser charge, such as reckless arson. Regardless of whether you are facing arson charges under California or federal law, you will want experienced counsel by your side.
If you are facing arson charges in the Tulare, Kings or Fresno County area, contact experienced criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens for expert counsel. The skilled legal team at The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can help ensure you take the right next steps in your case and will ensure you the best possible chance at a favorable outcome. Contact our offices in Hanford and Visalia at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss your case.