If the government charges you with intentionally setting a fire, whether to collect on insurance or for another motive, the penalties may be severe. Arson is one of the most serious and complex charges in the state, and these accusations must be met head on with a relentless defense.
In New York, arson involves setting fire to property intentionally. Often, arson results in damage to residential or commercial buildings, as well as to public property. To establish intent, a prosecutor may try to show that a defendant set a fire to collect on an insurance policy, exact revenge against an enemy, or destroy evidence. Note that it is the act of starting the fire or explosion that must be intentional, not necessarily all the damage that results. Due to a fire’s volatile nature and the potential for people to be injured or die, arson is typically classified as a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
Within this realm, arson in the first degree carries elements concerning financial gain or knowing that serious physical injury or death would occur due to another person’s presence. Arson in the second, third, or fourth degree may also be charged depending on the level of damages, if any individuals were harmed, and if the defendant harbored malicious intent or acted recklessly in his commission of the crime. Arson in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor, only requires that some damage occur.
The following are common defenses to charges of arson:
Other Causes: Due to electrical, gas, and heating issues, it is possible that the fire was started by natural means, and not with malicious intent.
Lack of Proof of Intent: The government, in its efforts to file the highest degree of charges, will try to first show that an individual acted with intent, while a strategic defense may be able to support that the fire resulted from accident, recklessness, or negligence. An affirmative defense may also arise if the fire was set for a lawful, proper purpose, such as demolition.
Insufficient Evidence: In many cases, evidence is lacking after a fire. Your lawyer may try to prove that there simply is not enough conclusive evidence to charge you. Arson is often proved by forensic evidence, such as traces of the inflammable or explosive material and of the method of ignition. These proofs, as well as evidence of the identity of the defendant, are subject to challenge.
The specific degree of arson will make all the difference when it comes to your potential sentencing. A misdemeanor arson can carry up to one year in jail, while certain felony level charges may carry over a decade in prison if convicted.
If you are being prosecuted for arson, hire a former prosecutor and seasoned defense attorney who can and will find creative solutions to counter these complex charges. Being charged with arson is only one small piece of the puzzle. What your defense attorney does afterwards, by way of investigation and consulting with experts, will shape your future and increase your chances of successfully fighting these accusations.
The sooner you put the case in the hands of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, the more opportunity you will have to work toward a favorable outcome.