When someone sets a fire or causes an explosion,  either intentionally or recklessly, he or she can be charged with arson. In New York City, arson crimes are  usually investigated by fire marshals within  the Bureau of Fire Investigations. .

New York state law recognizes five degrees of arson charges.

  • Arson in the Fifth Degree (Class A misdemeanor): Applies when someone intentionally damages another person’s property without the consent of the owner by starting a fire or causing an explosion. It may be punishable by up to one year incarceration.
  • Arson in the Fourth Degree (Class E felony): Involves the reckless damage of a car or building via fire or explosion. A conviction can result in a jail sentence.
  • Arson in the Third Degree (Class C felony): Occurs when someone willfully uses fire or explosives to damage a car or building. The law requires a mandatory jail sentence if convicted of this offense.
  • Arson in the Second Degree (Class B violent felony): Applies when someone intentionally sets a fire in a car or building while another person is inside, and they knew there was a possibility that this person (or people) were present.
  • Arson in the First Degree (Class A-I felony): The most severe arson charge, it applies  if someone intentionally sets off a fire or explosion in a building or car and the fire causes serious physical injury to an individual, that injures another person while knowing that someone could be on the scene. This specific offense carries a mandated prison penalty.

Federal law takes an equally punitive approach to arson crimes. 18 U.S.C. Section 844(i) declares arson or attempted arson a federal crime if interstate or foreign commerce are impacted. In instances where only property is destroyed (or nearly destroyed), a conviction can result in a five to 20-year prison sentence. If an act of arson kills someone else, the accused could face the death penalty.

Any individual charged with arson at either the state or federal level in New York should hire an experienced criminal defense attorney the moment they are arrested or learn they are being investigated. There are several valid defenses to arson charges, including:

  • The defendant destroyed their own property
  • They did not own the property, but had the owner’s permission to destroy it
  • There was no financial interest in the destruction
  • The fire or explosion was caused accidentally
  • Lack of evidence that a fire was incendiary

With one’s freedom at risk, it makes sense to hire the best criminal defense lawyer to defend an arson charge. They will work to protect their client’s rights and future.