Arson is considered a felony in Los Angeles and carries severe penalties for those who are found guilty of it, including heavy fines and lengthy prison sentences. But an arson defense lawyer in Los Angeles can protect your rights if you’re facing criminal charges.
The Simmrin Law Group has extensive experience in representing defendants and successfully fighting for them in court. Find out what an arson charge could mean for you and what our criminal defense team can do to assist you in fighting it.
What Is Arson?
Arson is the act of setting fire to property, including land, a home or business, or smaller belongings. Arson is punished very severely in Los Angeles. Many people who face arson charges don’t realize what a serious criminal offense it is, but in many cases, arson is automatically a felony.
California has two laws about arson, Penal Code Section 451 (“Malicious Arson”) and Penal Code Section 452 (“Reckless Burning”). Of these two, malicious arson is far more serious and is always a felony. Reckless burning can be a felony or a misdemeanor, but still carries jail time.
The specific charge you are facing will determine what penalties you face, but in many cases it may be possible to reduce a malicious arson charge to reckless burning. However, a conviction for arson will count as an additional strike on your record.
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What Counts As “Malicious Arson” in Los Angeles?
In Los Angeles, malicious arson is defined as the following:
- You set fire to forested land, a structure of any kind, a motor vehicle or someone’s personal property (or you arranged, assisted in or counseled setting the fire), and
- You did so maliciously.
The property in question that was damaged or destroyed by the fire has to be someone else’s. In most cases you can’t be convicted of arson for burning your own property, unless you did it to get insurance money or the fire spread to someone else’s property.
The word “malicious” is the true key to understanding this law, however. In order for you to be convicted of malicious arson, you must have had a specific harmful intent to set the fire. Potential malicious motivations would include:
- Trying to defraud an insurance company
- Trying to hurt or kill someone
- Trying to damage the property out of revenge, anger, jealousy or spite
That means that lighting off firecrackers for fun, or lighting a tree on fire just to see if it will burn, do not count as malicious arson – although they still qualify as reckless burning. And they still necessitate talking to an arson defense attorney in Los Angeles.
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What Counts As “Reckless Burning” in Los Angeles?
Reckless burning is defined the same way as malicious arson except there is no “malice” requirement. This could apply to:
- Setting a fire purely for amusement or thrill
- Setting a fire because of a mental illness (pyromania)
- Lighting any other kind of fire that was not intended to defraud or harm someone, and not done out of malice
Many prosecutors will try to charge you with malicious arson even when there is no malice involved. They are hoping to get the biggest conviction possible. But it’s often possible for your L.A. arson defense lawyer to reduce the charge to reckless burning or even win your case due to lack of evidence.
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What Counts As “Setting Fire” in Los Angeles?
The threshold for what constitutes “setting fire” is extremely low and covers practically any fire you create. The fire does not have to completely destroy the building or property to count as arson. In fact, it may not even do much damage. If you started a small fire that barely touched the property, but there is damage, it can count as setting a fire for the purposes of arson.
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Examples of Common Los Angeles Arson Crimes
A wide range of activities can fall within the broad umbrella of malicious arson and reckless burning. Here are some of the most common Los Angeles arson crimes:
- Setting fire to property that is not yours
- Setting fire to an inhabited building
- Setting fire to forests or public lands
- Setting fire to your own property with the intent to defraud
- Setting a fire that gets out of control or poses a risk to others
What Are the Penalties for Arson in Los Angeles?
Without a skilled Los Angeles arson defense attorney from the Simmrin Law Group on your side, you could face severe penalties. Arson is punished in Los Angeles under several statues, including the following:
- Penal Code Section 451(a)
- Penal Code Section 451(b)
- Penal Code Section 451(c)
- Penal Code Section 451(d)
The penalties for arson in Los Angeles vary in severity and depend on a few things:
- What charge you’re facing
- Whether anyone suffered great bodily harm (any kind of serious injury) and how many people
- The circumstances of the case
Here are the specific penalties you can face if you’re convicted of arson in Los Angeles:
Malicious Arson Penalties
- 16 months to three years in prison if you burned your own property and someone else’s caught fire
- Two to six years for a non-inhabited property
- Three to eight years for inhabited buildings
- Seven to nine years if someone suffered great bodily harm
- A fine of up to $10,000, or up to $50,000 or twice the amount you’re expected to recover from insurance
- A strike under the Three Strikes Law and a convicted arson status for life
“Enhanced” Malicious Arson Penalties
If you were convicted of arson with certain aggravating circumstances, you will face a more severe punishment. Should that occur, you will face the above penalties plus an extra one to five years of prison time.
Some of the common aggravating circumstances under which you could receive enhanced malicious arson penalties include the following:
- You have a prior conviction for any arson crime
- An emergency worker (such as a firefighter) was harmed
- More than two people suffered great bodily injury
- Multiple structures were affected
- You used a device to either delay the start of the fire (like a timer) or accelerate it
Misdemeanor Reckless Burning Penalties
If the burning involves only personal property, it is usually charged as a misdemeanor and carries up to six months in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Felony Reckless Burning Penalties
- If reckless burning involves a structure or forested land, it can be tried as a misdemeanor (as above) or a felony
- Felony penalties include state prison time based on the circumstances, with sentences similar to those for malicious arson
- The same “enhancements” apply to felony reckless burning as listed above for felony malicious burning
Registering as an Arson Offender in California
Should you be convicted of arson, you may have to register as an arson offender. California’s arson registry functions similarly to its sex offender registry. If you’re convicted under the following circumstances, you will likely be added to the arson registry:
- You were convicted of malicious arson or the attempt to commit malicious arson
- You were convicted of aggravated arson with a minimum sentence of ten years, and
- You possessed flammable or combustible materials connected to your arson crime
Should you be added to the arson registry, you will need to update the government any time your personal information changes. Law enforcement agencies may contact you in the course of arson crimes investigations. You may also face trouble renting or buying property and in securing employment. An arson conviction brings severe penalties, making it vital to fight it.
Is It Possible to Beat an Arson Charge?
Yes, you can beat arson charges. The best defense against an arson conviction will depend on the circumstances. However, some of the strongest defenses can include:
- There is no evidence that arson even took place, as opposed to an accidental fire
- The forensic “science” indicating arson is unscientific or contains potential errors
- The evidence against you is flimsy or circumstantial—there simply isn’t enough to convict
- You are not the one who started the fire, and you were wrongly identified
These defenses can mean the difference between serving 9 years in prison and walking free. However, simply claiming one of these defenses does not help you—you need to build a case. You should talk to an arson defense lawyer in Los Angeles.
Talk to a Los Angeles Arson Lawyer for Free
If you are facing an arrest for arson—or someone you love is – you need to talk to a Los Angeles arson defense attorney. The Simmrin Law Group has the experience and knowledge to help you successfully fight your charges. When you come to us, we will listen to your story, take your side and give you the best defense possible – with a strong record of winning.
Let us give you a free consultation to get started. Fill out the form to the right or contact us directly and get your free consultation today. No matter what happened in your case, we will listen to you. At the Simmrin Law Group, we work to defend clients and we know how to win.