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Arson Laws (PC 451/452) in California

California Penal Code 451 – Arson

Legal Definition: A person is guilty of arson when he or she 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.

In order to secure a conviction for a violation of PC 451, the prosecution must meticulously establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant deliberately ignited, burned, or aided and abetted the burning of a structure, forest land, or property.
  • The defendant exhibited willful and malicious intent while committing the aforementioned act.

Rest assured that our team of seasoned professionals with extensive expertise in the field is well-versed in such matters, ensuring that justice prevails.

What does this mean?

To ignite or consume in flames denotes the act of causing harm or destruction through the use of fire, regardless of the extent. An action is classified as willful when it is undertaken voluntarily or with intent. Malicious intent occurs when one deliberately engages in wrongful behavior or carries out actions with the unlawful aim of defrauding, irritating, or causing harm to another individual. Notably, the act of committing arson against one’s own property cannot lead to a conviction unless it is for the purpose of insurance fraud. In this context, a structure refers to any type of building, bridge, tunnel, power plant, or commercial or public tent. Furthermore, property encompasses personal belongings and land, excluding forested areas.

Penalties

The punishments for Arson depend on which section of Arson you are convicted of.

  1. PC 451(a) Arson causing great bodily injury: This is a felony offense, where if convicted, you could be sentenced to upwards of five, seven, or nine years in a State Prison. You would have to serve 85% of that sentence.
  2. PC 451(b) Arson of inhabited structure: This is a felony offense, where if convicted, you could be sentenced to upwards of three, five, or eight years in a State Prison. You would have to serve 85% of that sentence.
  3. PC 451(c) Arson to a structure: This is a felony offense, where if convicted, you could be sentenced to upwards of two, four, or six years in a State Prison. You would have to serve 85% of that sentence.
  4. PC 451(d) Arson of property: This is a felony offense, where if convicted, you could be sentenced upwards of 16 months, two or three years in a State Prison. You would have to serve 85% of that sentence.
  5. PC 452(a) Unlawfully causing fire that causes great bodily injury (GBI): This is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony offense. If you are convicted of these charges as a misdemeanor, you could be sentenced to up to one year in a County Jail. If you are convicted of this charge as a felony offense, you could be sentenced to upwards of two, four, or six years in a State Prison. You would have to serve 50% of that sentence.
  6. PC 452(b) Unlawfully caused a fire to an inhabited structure: This is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony offense. If you are convicted of these charges as a misdemeanor, you could be sentenced to up to one year in a County Jail. If you are convicted of this charge as a felony offense, you could be sentenced to upwards of two, three, or four years in a State Prison. You would have to serve 50% of that sentence.
  7. PC 452(c) Unlawfully caused a fire to structure or forest: This is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony offense. If you are convicted of these charges as a misdemeanor, you could be sentenced to up to 180 days in a County Jail. If you are convicted of this charge as a felony offense, you could be sentenced to upwards of 16 months, two or three years in a State Prison. You would have to serve 50% of that sentence.
  8. PC 452(d) Unlawfully causing fire to property: This is a misdemeanor offense, where, if you are convicted of these charges you could be sentenced to up to 180 days in a County Jail. You would have to serve 50% of that sentence.

Arson under PC 451 is a serious felony and qualifies as a strike under California’s Three Strike Law. Arson is also considered a moral turpitude crime. A crime of moral turpitude means that the crime is considered to be morally wrong and carries special consequences for licensed professionals as well as people living in the United States on a temporary basis. Also, given the damage caused, the Restitution in Arson cases is typically among the highest in all of Criminal Law.

Common Defenses

  1. Statute of Limitations
  2. Insufficient Evidence
  3. Insanity
  4. Lack of Scientific Evidence
  5. Violation of your Rights

Arson law has significantly evolved over the years due to the increasing trend of property owners acquiring insurance and subsequently witnessing mysterious infernos that reduce their properties to ashes. This phenomenon is understandable, considering that building and home insurance often amount to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Consequently, insurance companies have been steadfast in safeguarding themselves against potential fraudulent claims or unfulfilled payouts.
Arson investigation, conducted by seasoned arson investigators and experts, is founded upon scientific principles. These specialists meticulously examine the presence of accelerants that expedite combustion, analyze the burn patterns, interpret scorch marks on the structural components, and much more.
However, prosecuting arson cases poses challenges as most charges hinge on the meticulous analysis of fire-related evidence, which is frequently destroyed by the very flames it originates from. Issues such as coerced confessions, unreliable eyewitness testimonies, and other complexities have compounded the difficulties faced by prosecutors and insurance investigators alike, significantly impeding their ability to establish arson charges or prevent dishonest insurance claims. It is crucial to emphasize that these observations are in no way an endorsement or encouragement for anyone to engage in the illegal act of intentionally burning down their property for insurance purposes.

Call Today

Navigating arson charges is more than just confronting a legal battle—it’s delving deep into a world of scientific detail and precision. These charges often come layered with complexities that, while formidable, are not insurmountable. The narratives can sometimes be skewed, especially when property owners find themselves in the crosshairs, wrongfully shouldering blame for unfortunate fire incidents.

Countering such accusations necessitates more than just basic defense strategies. It demands an acute understanding of both the scientific and legal realms to dismantle the prosecution’s claims effectively. As I’ve often emphasized, the path to proving innocence is not linear, but with the right expertise, it can be decisively navigated.

Choosing an experienced attorney is not just a choice; it’s a vital step towards safeguarding your rights. If you or a loved one find yourself in this challenging predicament, let me be your guiding force. With a deep reservoir of knowledge and a history of successful defenses, I’m here to champion your cause.

Reach out to me for a consultation, and let’s collaboratively work on your defense strategy. Dial 909-281-0391 today to explore more about my expert approach in handling arson charges.

Disclaimer: The legal information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor should it be considered the formation of a lawyer or attorney-client relationship. If you would like to find out more information about your particular legal matter, contact our office for a consultation.

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