What Are The Different Degrees of Arson?

What Are The Different Degrees of Arson?

In short, you can be charged with arson if you create a fire or explosion that causes property damage, whether it was accidental or intentional. However, there are several different degrees of this crime that are largely dependent on the value of the property and whether anyone was harmed in the process.

Blurred fast moving firefighters truck in New York City.

This means that arson can carry some of the most serious penalties you can think of and definitely requires the advice of a criminal defense lawyer from a reputable law firm.

Here, we’ll go over the different arson charges within New York City law, as well as the sentences they carry and the defenses that can be used if applicable.

New York Penal Law – Defining Degrees of Arson

Article 150 of New York Penal Law states that arson involves causing damage to a building or motor vehicle via a fire or explosion. The different charges of arson are dependent on other factors surrounding the crime – the mildest charge is a misdemeanour, while the other four are felonies.

The degrees of arson are as follows:

Fifth Degree Arson

Arson in the fifth degree is a class A misdemeanor charge that comes about when someone intentionally starts a fire to cause damage to a building or motor vehicle belonging to another without their consent.

Fourth Degree Arson

Fourth degree arson is a class E felony charge, and is caused when someone recklessly causes damage to someone’s building or motor vehicle without their consent by intentionally causing an explosion or starting a fire.

Third Degree Arson

Arson in the third degree is a class C felony that applies to when someone intentionally damages a building or motor vehicle with a fire or explosion. However, while the three lightest charges listed here are similar, they tend to be dependent on the amount of damage done to the personal property, or the value of the property destroyed.

Second Degree Arson

Arson in the second degree is a class B felony, and involves intentionally destroying or damaging a building or motor vehicle that contains a person not participating in the crime. The accused either knows that a person is inside, or knows that the chance of the building or vehicle containing a person is reasonably likely.

First Degree Arson

First degree arson is the most serious charge, and a class A I felony. It can apply when a building or motor vehicle is damaged with a propelled incendiary device or explosive, causing serious physical harm to a non-participant and/or for the purpose of financial gain. Again, the accused must be aware that a person not involved in the crime was inside, and that the likelihood of someone being inside was relatively high.

Additionally, 18 U.S.C. Section 844(i) considers arson to be a federal crime if interstate or foreign commerce are impacted.

Examples of Different Kinds of Arson

With the number of different charges, there are many forms that arson crimes can take. Here just a few examples of what this crime can look like:

  • A person creating a bonfire in a forest that burns down a nearby barn, as the fire was created recklessly without regard for safety
  • Someone throwing an incendiary device into a private building to cause an explosion for the purpose of gaining money through insurance fraud
  • Someone setting fire to another person’s car, resulting in damage
  • A person intentionally setting fire to a public building, whether resulting in the physical injury of those inside or not

Potential Sentences for Different Degrees of Arson

As you can imagine, arson in the 5th degree tends to carry the lightest sentence, with first degree arson carrying the harshest penalties. However, all charges of arson can result in a prison sentence.

While a charge of 5th degree arson can lead to a jail sentence of up to a year if convicted, in the case of more serious charges, a person found guilty could face a jail sentence ranging from five to twenty years. If someone is killed due to the fire or explosion caused by the accused, life imprisonment could very well be considered.

Defenses Against a Charge of Arson

There are actually a range of defenses that you can potentially utilize if you have been charged with arson. One potential defense against a charge of arson is to assert that no one aside from the defendant was interested in the property that was damaged or destroyed

Another can be invoked if the fire or explosion was caused accidentally, if the defendant actually had the owner’s permission to destroy it to begin with, or – in the case of arson and insurance fraud – if the defendant can assert that they had no financial interests when damaging the building or vehicle. Either way, the setting of the fire itself can half legal implications based on the recklessness of the act.

Contact a New York Lawyer Today

Arson is a serious charge to receive that can have a significant impact on you, your family, your work, and your reputation – if you have received this charge, or are being investigated for this crime, talking to a criminal defense lawyer from a reputable criminal law office is highly advisable.

If you or someone you know has received arson charges and is looking for legal advice or legal services, contact our law offices for a free consultation.