There are two ways that arson can be charged under California law. Penal Code 451 covers when a person willfully or maliciously sets fire to a building, a piece of land or any other property. Penal Code 452 covers when a person recklessly sets fire to a building, a piece of land or any other property. Under the law, setting fire to or burning something does not mean that the structure or piece of land has to be destroyed in its entirety; even a small piece of it being damaged counts. Additionally, property, as it is defined in both penal codes does not mean just houses; it can mean cars, boats, furniture, or even clothes.
In order to charge a person under Penal Code 451, which defines willful or malicious arson, there are few elements that a prosecutor must prove. First, they must prove that the individual actually set fire to or burned the building, piece of land or other property. Then, they must prove that the individual did so willfully and maliciously. To do something willfully means that the person did it intentionally and doing something maliciously means that they intentionally committed an act with the intent to defraud, annoy or injure someone else. Willful and malicious arson is always considered a felony in California.
As defined under Penal Code 452, reckless burning requires two elements to be proven for a conviction. The prosecutor must prove that the person did in fact set fire to the building, piece of land or structure. Then, they must prove that the actions were committed recklessly. To prove that an action was committed recklessly the prosecutor must be able to prove that the defendant was aware that their actions presented a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire that they ignored that and that in ignoring that risk they did something that a reasonable person would not have done. Reckless burning can be ruled either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Willful or malicious arson can come with an array of sentencing times. If the arson caused another person to suffer great bodily injury, then the defendant can be sentenced to five, seven or nine years in prison under California Penal Code Section 451(a). If a building that was inhabited was burned because of malicious arson, the defendant can be sentenced to three, five or eight years in prison under California Penal Code Section 451(b). If a building that was not inhabited is burned because of malicious arson, the defendant can be sentenced to two, four or six years in prison under California Penal Code 451(c). If the defendant’s or another individual’s property is burned because of malicious arson, the defendant can be sentenced to 16 months, two years or three years in prison under California Penal Code 451(d). All forms of willful or malicious arson carry a fine of up to $10,000.
Reckless arson can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. If a structure or piece of land was burned, and it was deemed a felony, the sentence can be 16 months, two years or three years in prison; if it was deemed a misdemeanor, the sentence is up to 6 months in jail. If an inhabited building or property was burned and it was deemed a felony, the sentence can be two, three or four years in prison; if it was deemed a misdemeanor the sentence can be up to one year in jail. If the reckless burning causes someone bodily injury and it is deemed a felony, the sentence can be two, four or six years in prison; if it is deemed a misdemeanor the sentence can be up to one year in jail.
An attorney can argue that the fire was an accident, that there is not sufficient evidence to pursue charges, that you were falsely accused, that you were mistakenly identified, or that the fire was not even started by arson.
If you or a loved one is facing an arson charge, you need an aggressive Orange County criminal defense lawyer on your side. With offices in Costa Mesa, we serve people throughout Southern California, including in Huntington Beach, Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, and Los Angeles. Call (855) 505-5588 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.