As a first-degree felony charge, arson is defined as the criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property. However, in Pennsylvania, arson law is actually pretty complex as it is broken into categories based on the act itself:
- Arson that endangers a person;
- Dangerous burning;
- Reckless burning or exploding;
- Arson that endangers property;
- Failure to control or report dangerous fires; and
- Possession of material that is explosive or incendiary with the intent to cause arson.
What is arson?
According to 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Sec. 3301 (a)(1), “A person commits a felony of the first degree if he intentionally starts a fire or causes an explosion, or if he aids, counsels, pays or agrees to pay another to cause a fire or explosion, whether on his own property or on that of another, and if:
- I. He thereby recklessly places another person in danger of death or bodily injury, including but not limited to a firefighter, police officer or other person actively engaged in fighting the fire; or
- II. He commits the act with the purpose of destroying or damaging an inhabited building or occupied structure of another.”
Arson Charges and Penalties
Because of the various conditions that must be met in the sentencing of arson charges, there are multiple factors that will determine the charge given as well as the penalty to be served. The following are the most common arson charges to be prescribed in the Commonwealth.
- Arson endangering persons: A first-degree felony where a fire or explosion is caused intentionally. In addition, aiding in such an act can also result in a felony charge. To be found guilty of arson endangering persons, the act must have occurred recklessly and put another in danger of death or bodily injury; or, was committed with the purpose of damaging another’s property in which they inhabited.
- Aggravated arson: First-degree felony that involves intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion, or aiding in the act while attempting to cause, or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing, injury to another person; or setting fire to a structure when a person is present inside the property.
- Arson of historic resource: A second-degree felony involving the intentional starting of a fire or explosion on any property, with the purpose of destroying or damaging a historic resource of another.
- Arson endangering property: Second-degree felony involving the intentional starting a fire or causing an explosion with the intent to damage a building or unoccupied structure of another; recklessly causing or hoping to cause an inhabited building or occupied structure to become damaged; or with the intent to damage property to collect insurance funds.
- Reckless burning or exploding: This is a third-degree felony when an individual intentionally starts a fire or causes an explosion, or aiding someone to do so, and recklessly placing another’s uninhabited building, unoccupied structure, motor-propelled vehicle, or other property valued over $5,000 in danger of damage.
The penalties of arson are as follows:
- First-degree charge: Up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.
- Second-degree charge: Up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.
- Third-degree charge: Up to 7 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
If you are convicted of aggravated arson, you can be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison if a firefighter, police officer, or other emergency personnel is injured or a civilian is seriously injured. In some cases, murder charges may also be brought forward if someone dies in the fire or explosion.
Defenses to Arson
If you are charged with arson, the element of intent will be important to prove for prosecution. While you may have set the fire, if you didn’t do so intentionally, like accidentally leaving a stove on, it will be difficult for the prosecution to get a conviction. In addition, if you attempted to stop the fire, that will also work in your favor.
In extreme cases, you may be arrested on the basis of mistaken identity. If you were not the one to cause the fire or explosion, it will be imperative to have an aggressive criminal defense attorney to help build your case.
Aggressive Criminal Defense From Arson Charges
As your advocate, Craig Kalinoski is a criminal defense attorney who is committed to protecting you in and out of court in your arson case. Our goal is to achieve the best possible verdict. Call (570) 207-4000 or use our contact form today to schedule an appointment and discuss your case during a free consultation.