Arson is the destruction of buildings, private property, or woodlands caused by a fire that was deliberately set. California law recognizes four varieties of arson, depending on the motive of the arsonist and the degree of damage done.
First degree felony arson: This charge is made when a person is seriously injured in a fire set by another person. If one or more people are killed by a fire, the person who set it may be charged with murder, whether killing was their goal or not. Under California law, any death that occurs during the commission of a felony can be tried as felony murder. First degree felony arson can be punished with up to nine years in prison; felony murder can be punished by death.
Second degree felony arson: This charge is made when a fire causes large amounts of damage, either to buildings, privately owned property or forests. The sentence will be longer if any of the buildings or land destroyed was inhabited – that is, if people were living there at the time of the fire. This crime can be punished by up to nine years in prison.
Aggravated arson: This charge can be made if the accused is suspected of trying to hurt people and has a prior arson conviction within the last ten years, or if the fire in question caused over $5,600,000 in damages, or if five or more inhabited structures were damaged in the fire. This can carry a sentence of up to ten years in prison.
Misdemeanor arson: If a fire did not harm anyone or cause serious property damage, the person accused of setting it will be charged with misdemeanor arson. The penalty can involve ninety days in jail and a year on probation.
If you have been accused of arson, call a San Jose criminal attorney from the Law Office of Daniel Jensen, P.C. at (408) 296-4100.