Under California Penal Code 451, arson occurs when a person “willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned or who aids, counsels, or procures the burning of, any structure, forest land, or property.” This broad definition applies to numerous situations, including the attempt to burn or the malicious act of burning a home, motor vehicle, aircraft, public building, or other personal property.
In some cases, the motive for an arson offense may be determined as the intent to defraud, hide evidence of another crime, or deceitfully attempting to claim insurance benefits. Because of the varying degree of financial and personal value property possesses, not to mention the possibility of physically hurting or even killing a person within a burning property or structure, serious consequences await those convicted of arson in California. Arson of property is considered a felony in California and, if found guilty, an individual may have to serve six months or two to three years in state prison.
An individual accused of arson that causes great bodily injury to a person may be charged with a felony in California, and serve a state prison term of five, seven, or nine years. A similar felony conviction and sentence of three, five, or eight years looms over a person charged with arson that caused an inhabited property or structure to burn. A person may also face two, four, or six years in prison if found guilty of arson of a structure or forest land. One can only imagine the challenges and harsh penalties a person faces when charged with arson in connection to a death caused by the fire or explosion. For example, a man who was convicted of an arson offense that killed five firefighters was sentenced to death as a result.
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David A. Stein has used his experience in criminal law to defend the rights of those charged with a variety of crimes. It is our firm’s strong belief that every citizen is entitled to their Constitutional rights and deserves a fair trial despite societal scorn for the degree of the offense accused of.