The Arson Law in California

Sec 451 of the California Penal Code prohibits the willful or malicious setting afire a building, piece of land or some other property. The second part of the law involves as the reckless burning or setting afire to a building or some other property.

In order to be convicted of arson, the prosecutor needs to define the kind of arson that was committed, whether it was willful arson or negligent arson. In order to prove willful or malicious arson, the following elements need to be established:

a)     The individual set fire or burned a structure, forest land or property;

b)     The individual committed such act willfully or maliciously;

c)      The fire resulted in the destruction of the structure, land or property or cause great bodily injury upon another;

In order to be convicted of the crime of negligent arson, the following need to be proven:

1)      The individual set fire or burned a structure, forest land or property;

2)     The said act was recklessly done;

Acting “recklessly” means that the individual is not aware that the actions done presented a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire and the individual ignored that risk. The said act done was a gross deviation on what is expected of a reasonable person to do during the same situation.

In meting out sentences for the crime of arson, the court looks into a number of factors. This includes the charge convicted of, the nature of the property set on fire, if any injuries occurred and the individual’s criminal history. Also included in the determination is a psychiatric evaluation to determine the length of the prison sentence imposable.

For misdemeanor reckless burning, the imposable penalties are summary probation, up to one year in county prison and/or payment of fines amounting to $1,000. For felony arson or felony reckless arson, then the imposable penalties are between sixteen months minimum to nine years maximum in state prison, payment of fines up to $50,000 or twice the amount of the anticipated gain and recording of a strike under the California Three Strikes Law.

There is also the crime called aggravated arson. In this crime, there was a previous conviction for felony malicious or reckless arson and during the actual fire, an officer of the law suffers great bodily injury. In this crime, multiple structures are burned using a device to accelerate the spread of the fire or delay ignition of the fire.

There are also other factors considered in the length of the sentence to be imposed. These are as follows:

1)      First if the act was committed as a revenge or retaliation or when the structure burned was a place of worship, such as a church, synagogue or mosque.

2)     Other factors were the intent to injure, if present or only the intent to damage the property and instead destroys the full structure. The nature of the structure also plays a role in the sentence, such as being an inhabited structure.

Another imposable penalty is the registration in a public record of a convicted arsonist in California.

The crime of arson is a serious offense in California. Should you be or know anyone facing any of these charges, do reach out to the lawyers at the Law Offices of Ramiro J. Lluis for a free consultation today.