The state of California is famous for its beautiful beaches and vigorous nightlife. What the state is also infamous for is random fires. Wildfires are a constant in the state of California, especially in the summer months. However, in some cases law enforcement may suspect a wildfire is actually arson if they find certain evidence. If this happens, the person filing the claim for fire damage could find themselves charged with arson.

Arson is a serious criminal offense that carries heavy penalties. Willfully or maliciously setting fire to any property is a felony that can result in up to 9 years in prison. That is why we highly encourage you to seek legal counsel by speaking to a criminal defense attorney if you’ve been charged with arson.

Arson Defense Lawyer in Ventura, California

Have you been accused of arson despite the fact that fires are a pretty common occurrence in California? If so, we urge you to seek help from an experienced property crimes attorney like the legal team at Jay Leiderman Law. Jay Leiderman of Jay Leiderman Law has over two decades of experience he can put to the test for your case.

Call Jay Leiderman Law today to set up your first consultation. Jay Leiderman Law accepts clients throughout the greater Ventura County and Santa Barbara county area including Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Somis, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Simi Valley, Lompoc, Isla Vista, and Los Olivos. Ojai, and Oak Park.

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When is a Fire Considered Arson in California?

Arson is an incredibly serious crime and prosecutors must prove multiple elements beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you. These elements can be found under the California Penal Code Section 451. According to the statute, it’s illegal to intentionally set fire to any structure, forest land, or property. Prosecutors must prove that you did the following to convict:

  • Set fire to or burned, or caused the burning of, forest land, a structure, or property; and
  • Acted willfully and maliciously while committing the crime

It’s important you know a few definitions in order to fully understand the statute. “To set fire or to burn” in context of the statute means to damage or destroy something with fire completely or partially. It doesn’t matter how small the part is, as long as you are attempting to damage and destroy it with fire the act fits the definition. For instance, charring wood can be seen as sufficient evidence of setting a fire or trying to burn something.

Under California law, a “structure” is defined as any building, bridge, tunnel, commercial/public tent, or power plant. Damage to fixtures within the building will also fall under the category of “structure” and can count as an arson charge. However, the fixtures must be an integral part of the building for it to be considered a part of the structure.

California defines the term “forest land” as bush-covered land, forest, grasslands, cut-over land, or woods area. “Property” under Penal Code 451 is defined as personal property or land other than forest land. This definition can include personal property including clothing or trash. Burning your own property in a controlled area does not constitute as arson.

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Is Arson a Felony or Misdemeanor in California?

The sentencing for arson will depend on the facts of the case. The crime is classified as a felony in the state of California and the length of imprisonment for the crime will depend on:

  • The type of property, forest land, or structure burned; and
  • Whether someone sustained a burn injury during the crime

Arson of personal property will result in a prison sentence ranging from 16 months, two years, or three years. Committing arson on a structure or forest land will result in a prison sentence of two, four, or six years. Any case of arson in an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn will result in a prison sentence of three, five, or eight years upon conviction.

Lastly, arson involving great bodily injury carries a maximum punishment of up to five, seven, or nine years. What is considered a “great bodily injury” is largely made on a case-by-case basis, however it will usually include a significant injury or substantial physical injury. Some examples of a great bodily injury include permanent disfigurement and damage to the nervous system.

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Penalties for Reckless Burning in California

Another crime comparable to arson is reckless burning under the California Penal Code 452. The statute states a person is guilty of reckless burning if they set fire or burn any forest land, structure, or property recklessly. The term “recklessly” is defined as:

  • They are aware their actions could result in a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a potential fire; and
  • Ignores the risk; and
  • By doing so is in gross violation of how a reasonable person would act in the same scenario

Reckless burning is a misdemeanor that can result in up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,00. The offense could be reclassified to a felony if the fire results in a burned structure or forestland or if it causes great bodily injury to another person.

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Additional Resources

Arson Laws in California – Visit the official website for the California Legislation to learn more about arson and reckless burning laws. Access the site to read up on the elements of the crime, the penalties for committing it, and other admissible defenses.

Ventura County Fire Department – Visit the official website for the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) to learn more about their services as firefighters. Access the site to learn more about fire prevention, how to request an inspection, and what policies can reduce fires in a property or business.

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Arson Attorney in Ventura County, California

If you or someone you know has been charged with arson, it’s imperative you seek a criminal defense attorney. For a lawyer with two decades of experience, we suggest you call Jay Leiderman Law. Jay Leiderman has represented numerous people in arson cases and other property crimes. He can utilize his prior knowledge and experience to fight your charges, so you face minimal penalties.

Call Jay Leiderman Law to set up your first consultation at (805) 654-0200. Jay Leiderman Law accepts clients throughout the greater Ventura, Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, and Van Nuys area.

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