If you have lived in California for a time, you know our state suffers from many out-of-control fires. Frequent drought conditions, soaring temperatures and dry plant life combine to make wildfires particularly destructive.
All states take a harsh stance against arson offenses, and California is certainly no exception. Prosecutors seek conviction aggressively against those who intentionally start a fire. Even when a fire occurs accidentally through carelessness (negligence), defendants often face severe penalties.
Arson is a complex offense
Prosecutors looking to secure even a basic arson conviction must prove several elements. In addition to establishing that you burned something (property, structure or land), prosecutors must also demonstrate that you did so willfully and maliciously. Proving these abstract elements can be challenging for prosecutors unless they possess hard evidence against you.
Beware of aggravated arson charges
If the authorities can prove that you intended to harm property or people, you can expect your charges to escalate. However, to obtain a conviction for aggravated arson, prosecutors must show that either or both of the following are the case:
- You have a prior arson conviction (over the last ten years)
- Your actions resulted in losses exceeding $6,500,000
Further, you could face felony charges if caught with combustible materials that indicate you are preparing to commit arson.
When an arson fire results in serious physical injuries, a conviction typically leads to up to nine years of imprisonment. A court could hand down an eight-year sentence if the fire damages inhabited buildings or property.
The penalties drop as the severity of the crime decreases, but even the most minor sentence could still put you behind bars. Learning more about arson and other felonies and having experienced legal guidance can help you deal with the charges.