When firefighters respond to a fire, often times the fire was started unintentionally. However, when a fire is deliberately started, this can lead to an arson investigation. People may start fires cover up a crime or to try to collect insurance funds. When a person intentionally damages property through the use of fire or explosives, arson charges are likely to follow.
Degrees of Arson
In New York, the type of arson charge will depend on certain factors. This includes:
- Was there someone present at the property?
- Did someone get seriously injured?
- Was the fire set intentionally or recklessly?
Thus, the charge can range from a misdemeanor all the way up to a class A-I felony.
There are several defenses that can be used to fight an arson charge. For example, for a First Degree charge, the prosecution must be able to show that a person’s injuries were “serious” as defined by the law. If the injuries weren’t so serious, this is a possible defense to the crime.
In other cases, the defense may be able to challenge whether or not the actor would have reasonably known the building was occupied at the time of the fire or explosion. For most arson offenses, a defense will be that the fire or explosion was an accident and not done intentionally or recklessly. Finally, the actor can also claim he had permission of the property owner or was the sole owner of the property that was damaged.
Federal Arson Charges
There are circumstances where arson can be charged as a federal offense. Where an actor uses fire or an explosive to damage or destroy property, this can be a federal charge if the property is “used in interstate or foreign commerce or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce.”
In the federal system, a charge of arson may result in a minimum of sentence of five years with a maximum of 20 years. However, if a person is injured as a result of the fire or explosion, the minimum becomes seven years and the maximum 40 years in prison.
- Penal Law Article 150, Arson. Available at: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/PEN/P3TIA150 (last accessed Aug. 17, 2022).
- 18 U.S. Code § 844, Penalties. Available at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/844 (last accessed Aug. 17, 2022).
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