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Arson can be defined as the intentional destruction by fire of the property of another. This broad crime is usually charged as a felony rather than a misdemeanor, thus increasing the severity of the penalties. Although arson usually involves the burning of a home or building, it can also be committed by damaging land or outdoor property. It can refer to anything from a privately-owned farm to a state park to a residential home to an office building. Part of the reason arson is treated with such harshness is because there is always the possibility that the fire will cause serious injury or death. Not only that, but the fire could easily become uncontrollable and spread to surrounding land and properties.
Whatever the motive behind this crime, it is always treated very seriously by the authorities. Sometimes an individual will set fire to their own property in order to claim insurance for the damages, but will blame the arson on someone else. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for someone to be falsely accused of arson. There are times when insurance companies will not want to pay for the fire, so they will attempt to blame the incidents on the owner.
The law regarding penalties for arson will vary from state to state, but the California Penal Code serves as a typical example of what one might expect from a conviction. If a person is guilty of arson that caused serious injury, it will be charged as a felony and could be punishable by up to nine years in state prison. If an inhabited property or building was intentionally burned down, that individual could spend up to eight years in prison.
An arsonist can be charged with murder if someone was killed because of the fire. Under most circumstances, to be convicted of murder, the act would have to be intentional. However, this is not the case with arson. The felony murder rule is a legal principal that operates in most states and it means that an arsonist can be charged with murder whether the death was intentional or accidental.
Understanding the seriousness of this crime and the harsh penalties is can carry, show the need for skilled legal representation to help defend you against these allegations. If you have been charged with arson, your situation does not have to be hopeless. An arson attorney can review all aspects of your case and fight to get your charges reduced or even dropped.