Arson (PC 451/452):
California’s arson laws make it a crime to willfully or recklessly set fire to any building, forest land, or property. Acting in a reckless manner is often called “reckless burning” or “reckless arson.” It is also a crime to set fire to your own property on fire if your property is a form of real estate, if you do it for a fraudulent purpose or if it causes injury to another person or another person’s property, land, or home.
Penalties (PC 451/452):
The penalties for arson or reckless burning depend on certain key factors. For instance, it depends on the type of property that was burned, whether or not someone was injured due to the fire, and if it was done in a willful or reckless manner. The lesser crime, “reckless burning” is considered a misdemeanor under California law. However, it becomes a “wobbler” if you burn a building or forest land, or if the act causes great bodily injury to someone other than yourself. Being a “wobbler,” the prosecutor has the discretion as to whether charge you with a misdemeanor or felony.
Basic reckless burning is a misdemeanor charge and it usually carries up to six months in county jail and/or fines up to $1,000. Reckless burning that is treated as a felony case carries up to 2 to 3 years in state prison. For reckless burning that causes great bodily injury, you can be expected to serve 1 year in county jail under a misdemeanor charge and 2 to 4 years in state prison if treated as a felony.
It is a felony to willfully and maliciously set fire to a building, forest land, or property. If in the process of committing the crime of arson, you accidently kill someone, you may be subject to Penal Code 187 murder under California’s “felony-murder rule.”
Under the law of aggravated arson, you may face enhanced sentencing of 1 to 5 years in state prison if any of the following factors exist: if you have a prior conviction of arson on your criminal record, if a firefighter or other emergency personnel suffers great bodily injury because of the fire, if more than one individual suffers great bodily injury as a result, and/or if you cause multiple structures to burn. If you are convicted of malicious arson or attempted malicious arson, you must also register as a convicted California arson offender.
Legal Defenses (PC 451/452):
In order to be convicted of arson, the prosecutor must prove that you acted maliciously or recklessly. The best legal defense in fighting an arson charge is to prove that the fire was a result of an accident, and that it was unintended and it was a noncriminal accident. However, it is very difficult to prove it was an accident if you were under the influence. However, most arson cases are built on circumstantial evidence, making it easy for defense attorneys to prove that you were not the one responsible.