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Aggravated Arson: How Does it Differ from Simple Arson?

You may find yourself facing charges of arson for allegedly igniting a building. However, you soon realize that the charges are not limited to simple arson but encompass "aggravated arson." Does such a distinct crime truly exist?

Indeed, it does. Simple arson generally refers to the deliberate and malicious act of setting fire to a structure, vehicle, or forested land. In contrast, aggravated arson charges can be levied if an individual commits arson and any of the following circumstances are present:

1. A person sustains injuries or dies in the fire.

2. A person is present inside or in close proximity to the structure or property that was set ablaze.

3. A first responder, such as a firefighter, sustains injuries.

Most jurisdictions regard both arson and aggravated arson as grave felonies rather than misdemeanors. However, if convicted of aggravated arson instead of simple arson, the punishment typically entails a longer incarceration period.

1. Simple Arson

The legal definition of "arson" entails intentionally setting fire to:

1. Property

2. A building

3. A structure

Different degrees of arson exist in various states based on the type of property involved. For instance:

1. First-degree arson applies to setting fire to inhabited structures or occupied vehicles.

2. Second-degree arson pertains to setting fire to an abandoned structure.

3. Third-degree arson encompasses setting fire to an unoccupied vehicle or vegetation.

4. Fourth-degree arson encompasses setting fire to anything else.

In most states, simple arson is treated as a serious felony, carrying a punishment of several years of imprisonment. However, it is important to note that certain states may consider simple arson as a less severe misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the case.

2. Aggravated Arson

Generally, aggravated arson occurs when:

1. Property is deliberately set on fire or explodes, and

2. The perpetrator foresaw the possibility of someone being in close proximity to the property and potentially sustaining injuries.

In some states, aggravated arson also applies if the arson results in:

1. Severe bodily harm, permanent disability, or disfigurement to an individual.

2. Injuries sustained by a firefighter, law enforcement officer, or correctional officer who was performing their duties in response to the fire.

Similar to simple arson, aggravated arson is considered a felony offense. Due to its more severe nature, a conviction for aggravated arson often results in a lengthier prison sentence.

3. Aggravating Factors

Indeed, they can. In cases where specific aggravating factors are present, a prosecutor may opt to charge the offense as aggravated arson rather than simple arson.

For instance, the State of California stipulates that a person is guilty of aggravated arson if one or more of the following aggravating factors are evident:

1. The individual has a prior conviction for arson within the past 10 years.

2. The act of arson causes property damage exceeding $7,000,000.

3. The act of arson damages at least five inhabited structures.

4. Burning Your Own Property

Not necessarily. Many arson cases involve individuals setting fire to their personal property, often with the intention of obtaining insurance money.

Simply setting fire to one's own property does not automatically elevate the offense to aggravated arson. However, if the act is committed with the intent to defraud, it may result in additional charges of insurance fraud.

Considering the gravity and seriousness of the criminal punishment associated with aggravated arson, you would be smart to contact our California aggravated arson charges dismissal attorneys for a complimentary consultation regarding your case. We may be able to develop a strategy for getting you out from under such egregious criminal charges.

Legal References:

1. Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – "Arson." See also Model Penal Code 220.1(1).

2. Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – "Arson."

3. California Penal Code 451.5.

If you have been arrested, or if a loved one has been accused of a crime, speak with our criminal defense lawyers as soon as possible.

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