Arson is legally defined as the willful, malicious burning or charring of property. Bombings may also be considered arsons, and a targeted structure need not be entirely destroyed for arson to be charged. There are many types of arson crimes, ranging from terrorism to insurance fraud. While most arsons are directed against buildings, pyromania can also be charged against anyone setting fire to forest lands, boats, airplanes, or other properties.

Most states identify several degrees of pyromania, based on factors such as the building’s occupancy (or lack of it) and whether insurance fraud was involved. Setting fire to an occupied building will almost always bring a more severe arson charge than burning an abandoned barn in a rural setting. Arson is often part of domestic violence situations, used to hide other crimes including murder and fraud. Arsons involving death may produce murder charges in some states; arson is handled in several ways in various state and federal courts.

There Are Charges For Burning My Own Property?

In the state of New York, it doesn’t matter whether or not a person owns the structure which he or she sets fire to, that person can still be charged with arson and face fines, jail time, or both, under New York law.

The idea of going to prison over the burning of one’s own property might seem excessive, but the reason for the law is pretty simple – to protect citizens of New York from wayward and out of control fires set by people who thought they could keep the fire under control.

There are several instances in the past where defendants would use their intent only to cause damage to their own property as a defense against criminal charges for burning the property of another.  This has been shown where defendants set fire to their own property to prevent somebody else from getting it (“If I can’t have it, nobody can”) or so that they could collect the insurance cash from the destruction of the property.

Some people engage in pyromania for insurance fraud to get easy money. This can lead to even more criminal charges. For example, a person has a $1 million fire insurance policy on a ramshackle building that would be worth only $500,000 on the market. If the person burns the building down and then tries to collect on the insurance policy, that person may be convicted on two separate charges: arson and insurance fraud. All a prosecutor has to prove is that the fire was started maliciously; there’s no legal requirement for the building to burn completely or for the fraud to be successful.

It takes a pretty culpable state of mind to burn a property out of revenge or for a quick payday, but just because a fire happens, it does not always mean that a suspect was criminally culpable in setting it, and the law recognizes this.

Criminal vs. Accidental

The law makes clear distinctions between a person’s behavior and understands that accidents should not be punished as harshly as intentional malicious conduct.

It doesn’t matter what the suspect’s original intent in starting the fire actually was, so long as he or she actually intended to start the original fire.  In other words, a person who lights a match, with no other intent than to light it, watch it burn, and stomp it out, can be charged criminally under New York arson laws if that match falls to the ground and burns down a building.  Even though the intent was not to burn down the building, the fact that the original lighting of the match was an intentional act will create the link from having no intent to burn down a building to facing criminal pyromania charges.

Unfortunately, working against an overzealous prosecutor can muffle a suspect and prevent his or her side of the story from being told fully and honestly.  This is why pyromania suspects are urged to partner with a credentialed arson defense attorney as soon as they have contact with the police in regards to an alleged arson.  Only with an experienced attorney by their side will the accused have the best possible chance of having their side of the story heard in an unbiased court of law.

Arson Charges

The state of New York characterizes five degrees of pyromania, with fifth degree being the lowest level of the offense and first degree being the highest.

First degree arson, a class A felony, is the most serious charge a person accused of arson could face – it requires that the suspect have caused serious injury to someone not involved in setting the fire, or that the suspect set the fire with the expectation of financial gain and while a person not involved in setting the fire was present in the structure and while the presence of that person was reasonably foreseeable.

Second degree arson, a class B felony, is the next most serious charge of arson and requires the accused to have intentionally damaged a structure by setting a fire while an uninvolved party was inside the structure and while the presence of the other person was a reasonable possibility.

Third degree arson, a class C felony, only requires that the accused intentionally damaged a structure by starting a fire.

Fourth degree arson, a class E felony, requires an even lower standard of proof.  It only requires that the accused recklessly damaged a structure by setting an intentional fire.

Fifth degree arson, a class A misdemeanor, is the least serious charge a person accused of arson could face – it requires that the suspect intentionally damaged the property of another, without the property owner’s consent, by intentionally setting a fire or causing an explosion.

Hire A Long Island Arson Attorney

Arson penalties can be serious. Depending on the circumstances of the case, an arson suspect may face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.  In addition to jail time, individuals accused of arson face the risk of having to pay serious fines and losing the trust and support of friends, family, and the community at large. The specific facts of the case will weigh heavily on the type of punishment handed down, with stiffer punishments reserved for those whose actions result in the death or serious injury of another.

If you or someone you know faces criminal arson charges in the state of New York, hire an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. If you’ve been charged, or even if you’re only being questioned, you need the counsel and direction of a good criminal defense lawyer. Arson cases don’t go away; they often get worse as the investigations continue. If you are suspected of arson or involved with arson in any way, speaking to a criminal defense attorney is the wisest choice you can make.