When a building or structure is destroyed by a fire or by an explosion, law enforcement officers and the local fire department work to determine the cause of the blaze. If any suspicious or unusual elements are discovered during the search, the local or state fire marshal can order law enforcement to conduct an arson investigation.
During an arson investigation, police and fire officers examine the remains of the property affected by the fire in an effort to uncover clues about possible foul play. This could include a search for reports of suspicious activity near the site before the fire or fire-starter materials. Also, the investigation team may search for signs that indicate the presence of individuals who did not have authorization to access the building or structure.
What is Arson?
Simply put, arson is the act of intentionally setting a fire or causing an explosion with the express intent to damage or destroy a building, structure, vehicle or other target. This definition applies even if the fire or explosion fizzled out and was unable to carry out the intended damage.
Criminal arson has the added definition of starting a fire or explosion with reckless disregard for the safety of others. To bring a charge of criminal arson against someone, the alleged crime scene will be examined for clues pointing to the intentions of the alleged arsonist. This is done in an attempt to show that the alleged arsonist committed several actions that fulfill requirements for a criminal arson charge. They include:
- The defendant committed the arson while knowing that their target was insured against damage or destruction.
- The defendant knew that certain property located inside the targeted location belonged to another person.
- A conviction for arson is a second-degree felony, punishable by two to 20 years in prison. An arson event that damaged a church or caused injury is a first-degree felony that can be punished by life in prison.
- Many small cases of arson are prosecuted as criminal mischief. A conviction for criminal mischief in which $50 or less of property was damaged is a class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine not more than $500. Arson that damages up to $1,500 in property is a class A misdemeanor that can carry a one-year jail sentence.
Defending Against Arson Charges
Arson attorneys may attempt to fight arson charges in several ways. For instance, an arson charges attorney might argue that the defendant had no way of knowing the damaged property was owned by someone else. The arson attorney might also argue that there is not enough evidence to link their client to the arson crime.
Please contact the Gilligan Law Firm to schedule a FREE consultation at (713) 529-9200