Have you been arrested for arson in San Diego? If so, do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC to minimize the consequences of your arrest. San Diego criminal defense lawyer Vikas Bajaj has nearly two decades of legal experience. During this time, he has helped clients just like you achieve the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. Using an aggressive pre-investigative process, we are often able to get the charges against our clients reduced or dismissed. Call us today to set up your free consultation. We will review the charges, determine the best line of defense, and explain your legal rights.
Overview of Arson – Penal Code 451
Arson is a criminal offense involving the destruction of property (or attempted destruction of property) using fire. The crime of arson, as defined in California Penal Code 451 PC, occurs when you:
- Willfully and maliciously;
- Set fire to or burn;
- Any structure, forest land, or property.
Criminal liability exists for anyone who attempts to commit arson or aids, counsels, or procures another person to commit arson. This means that you can face criminal charges for arson in San Diego even if your attempt to commit arson is unsuccessful or you merely encourage another person to commit the crime.
In order to be convicted of arson in San Diego, you must act willfully and maliciously. You will be considered to have acted willfully when you do something on purpose. This prevents you from being held criminally liable for actions that are unintentional or accidental. You will be considered to have acted maliciously if you intentionally do something wrong or with the “unlawful intent to defraud, annoy, or injure” another person.
Set Fire or Burn
You can be charged with arson for setting a fire or burning a structure, forest, or property. There is no requirement for the object of your crime to go up in flames. Instead, you can face criminal charges for arson if you use fire to damage or destroy property. There is no minimum amount of damage that must be done to trigger criminal liability. Any amount of damage – no matter how minor or small – is sufficient.
Target of Arson
The crime of arson requires that you set fire to or burn a structure, forest land, or property. The target of your criminal behavior must usually belong to another person. However, you can face criminal liability for using fire to destroy your own property if you acted with fraudulent intent. For example, it would not ordinarily be a crime to set your own antique furniture on fire on your own property. However, this would become a crime if you only set fire to your property to collect the insurance benefits covering those antique items.
Types of Arson
What happens if you don’t act willfully and maliciously? What happens if your crime of arson is particularly violent and dangerous? In San Diego, you could face charges for a different type of arson. Penal Code 451 PC describes what is known as “simple arson.’ If you set fire to or burn something by mistake, you could face charges for what is known as reckless arson. If you set fire to or burn something, and the consequences are devastating, you could face charges for what is known as aggravated arson.
Reckless arson, as defined in Penal Code 452 PC, occurs when you set fire to or burn a structure, forest land, or property by acting recklessly. You will be considered to have acted recklessly if you know (or should know) that your actions create an unjustifiable risk of creating a fire, but commit the act, anyway. In order to determine if you acted recklessly, a jury will determine if your conduct is a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would have done under the same circumstances.
Aggravated arson, as defined in Penal Code 451.5 PC, occurs when you:
- Commit arson willfully, maliciously, deliberately, with premeditation, and with intent to cause injury, and
- You have been convicted of arson at least once in the past 10 years; or
- The fire caused damage to or destroyed five or more inhabited structures.
This means that you can face additional and consecutive criminal penalties for aggravated arson if you act with the intent to injure someone and you have a prior arson conviction or target multiple inhabited structures.
Penalties for Arson in San Diego
The crime of arson is generally a felony offense in San Diego. However, there are limited circumstances when the crime of reckless arson can be charged as a misdemeanor offense. The specific charge (and the seriousness of the consequences) you face will depend on the facts and circumstances of your alleged crime, including:
- Whether a victim was physically injured;
- The extent of the property damage;
- Your prior criminal record; and
- Your specific intent.
Simple Arson. Simple arson of property, without aggravating factors, is a felony punishable by 16 months, two, or three years in a California state prison. This criminal sentence can be extended if certain aggravating factors are present. The criminal penalty for simple arson will be extended if:
- The arson causes great bodily injury (up to nine in prison);
- The arson causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn (up to six years in prison)
- The arson causes a structure or forest land to burn (up to six years in prison).
Reckless Arson. Reckless arson can be a misdemeanor or a felony in San Diego. Misdemeanor reckless arson carries a maximum penalty of one year in a San Diego County jail. Felony reckless arson, which is generally charged when your conduct causes great bodily harm or affects an inhabited structure, carries a maximum penalty of four years in a California state prison.
Aggravated Arson. The crime of simple arson can be aggravated when your conduct is particularly dangerous, destructive, or harmful.
You will face an additional one to five years in a California State prison if you are convicted of arson and:
- Have been convicted of malicious arson within the past 10 years;
- Cause a firefighter, peace officer, or EMT to suffer a great bodily injury;
- Cause at least two people to suffer a great bodily injury, and/or
- Cause multiple structures to burn.
You will face an additional ten years to life in a California state prison if you are convicted of arson, acted with intent to injure another person or damage an inhabited structure, and
- You have been convicted of arson within the past 10 years;
- The arson causes property damage of more than $7 Million; or
- You damaged at least 5 inhabited structures.
Registered Arson Offender
Some serious arson convictions will require you to register as an arson offender with the state of California. This requirement will stay with you for life. You may be required to register as an arson offender if you cause great bodily injury, maliciously set fire to property, or target an inhabited building.
Defenses to Arson
If you are facing criminal charges for arson in San Diego you have the right to assert any defense that explains, excuses, and/or justifies your alleged behavior. Successfully arguing a legal defense will make it much harder for the prosecution to build a strong case against you. This can be helpful in securing a reduction or dismissal of the charges in your case. Defenses that may be helpful in your arson case include:
- You lacked the required intent to commit the crime;
- You did not act willfully;
- You acted under force or duress;
- No fire was actually set;
- No property, structure, or land was burned; or
- You have been falsely accused.
Fighting Charges of Arson in San Diego
Are you facing criminal charges for arson in San Diego? Contact the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC today to minimize the consequences of your arrest. If you are convicted of arson your life will be changed forever. In addition to facing a lengthy term of imprisonment, you will also be forced to live with a felony criminal record for the rest of your life. This will make it incredibly difficult to find a job, rent an apartment, and enjoy certain privileges you once took for granted. As a convicted felon, you may have your gun ownership rights revoked and be prohibited from participating in helpful government welfare programs. You can fight the criminal charges against you, and the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC can help.
The prosecution will begin to build a case against you the moment you are arrested, so it is important to act quickly. We know that your future is at stake and will aggressively fight to get the best possible outcome in your arson case. Call our experienced San Diego arson defense attorneys today to schedule a free consultation. We will review your case, explain your legal rights, and answer any questions you have.