If you face an arson charge in Florida, you have reason for concern. Because arson is considered a serious crime, the consequences if convicted of such an offense are quite severe. These consequences can include a prison sentence, a fine, or both, not to mention the collateral damage to other areas of your life. With so much at stake, you need to understand what the charge involves legally and the potential penalties to make informed decisions about your defense strategy moving forward.
With over 30 years of experience defending clients against all types of criminal charges, West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney Ronald S. Chapman fights for clients facing arson charges. This blog post will discuss what constitutes arson under Florida law and the penalties you could face if convicted. Call us today at (561) 832-4348, so we can begin to fight for you.
What is Arson under Florida Law?
Florida law defines arson as willful damage to a structure or dwelling, whether occupied or not, by fire or explosives, either illegally or during the commission of another felony. A structure can be any building or enclosed area with a roof, a portable building, a tent, a vehicle, or watercraft. Arson can also include intentional fire damage to any property surrounding such structures and their contents.
There are many ways to commit arson, but the most common is using an accelerant to start the fire. An accelerant can be anything from gasoline to lighter fluid, and the intent is to cause as much damage as possible. People will sometimes commit arson by setting off explosives to start a fire.
Though arson is not the most committed crime in Florida, according to a 2021 Arson Incident Report, there were 649 arson incidents reported to the Bomb Arson Tracking System in 2021. The report also indicated that the top three motivating factors for committing arson were “Revenge,” “Crime Concealment,” and “Excitement.”
If charged with arson, you need to understand the severity of the charge and the potential consequences you could face. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the legal system and fight for your rights.
What Are the Degrees and Penalties for Arson Crimes?
Arson is always classified as a felony in Florida, but the severity of the punishment is determined by the type of structure damaged, the extent of damage, and any injuries caused by the fire to other people.
The most serious of these charges is a first-degree arson charge – a felony offense carrying a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. A fire or explosion that is purposefully started in a home or another area where people are present is considered an act of arson in the first degree. Hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, healthcare facilities, churches, and schools are a few examples.
The penalties would be much more severe if your crime caused someone else's property or someone else to suffer a personal injury. If this is not your first offense, your fines and penalties will probably be more severe. The most serious arson cases usually involve:
- A fatality
- Serious injury to an innocent person
- Injury to a firefighter or other person trained to respond in emergencies
Most first-degree arson cases are decided based on the circumstances and evidence. If you are charged with arson in the first degree, you may also be held without bond or granted extremely high bail.
Second-degree arson is also a felony offense in Florida, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. A crime of arson in the second degree involves deliberately starting a fire or explosion to unlawfully cause damage to any other property not listed in a first-degree arson. Your penalties will increase if another person suffers a personal injury or damage.
Defrauding an Insurance Company
In Florida, you can be charged with burning the insurer if you willfully attempt or start a fire with the intent to defraud an insurance company. In Florida, burning to defraud an insurer is a third-degree felony punishable by up to $5,000 in fines and five years in prison.
In addition to imprisonment and penalties, you may be required to pay restitution for the destroyed property.
Possible Defenses to Arson Charges
The defense strategies for your case will vary depending on the circumstances of your case. Here are some examples of potential defenses your attorney may be able to use:
- You are innocent and wrongfully accused (i.e., mistaken identity)
- You had the authority to start the fire (i.e., you had a permit for clearing land)
- You caused the fire, but it was an accident, and you did not deliberately start it
- Lack of evidence or evidence obtained illegally
Facing an Arson Charge? Contact West Palm Beach, Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Ronald S. Chapman
With more than 30 years of experience defending clients against criminal charges, criminal defense attorney Ronald S. Chapman knows what to expect during each stage of your case and can provide you with the best possible defense against your arson charge.
If you face an arson charge, jail time could be on the table. Having an experienced criminal lawyer by your side can help with your sentencing, plea agreements, and raising any potential defenses. We can also represent you at all court appearances and talk to the judge and opposing counsel on your behalf. Call us to schedule a meeting at (561) 832-4348.
Copyright © 2023. Ronald S. Chapman, P.A. All rights reserved.
The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.
Ronald S. Chapman, P.A.
400 Clematis St., Suite 206
West Palm Beach, FL 33401