Orange County Criminal Defense
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California Arson Attorney

Arson in Califorina is defined by Penal Code sections 451 and 452.

Penal Code section 451 states:

  • A person is guilty of arson when he or she willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned or who aids, counsels, or procures the burning of, any structure, forest land, or property.
  • Arson that causes great bodily injury is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for five, seven, or nine years.
  • Arson that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for three, five, or eight years.
  • Arson of a structure or forest land is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years.
  • Arson of property is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two, or three years. For purposes of this paragraph, arson of property does not include one burning or causing to be burned his or her own personal property unless there is an intent to defraud or there is injury to another person or another person’s structure, forest land, or property.

Penal Code section 452 states:

A person is guilty of unlawfully causing a fire when he recklessly sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, any structure, forest land or property.

  • Unlawfully causing a fire that causes great bodily injury is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four or six years, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine, or by both such imprisonment and fine.
  • Unlawfully causing a fire that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine, or by both such imprisonment and fine.
  • Unlawfully causing a fire of a structure or forest land is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two or three years, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months, or by a fine, or by both such imprisonment and fine.
  • Unlawfully causing a fire of property is a misdemeanor. For purposes of this paragraph, unlawfully causing a fire of property does not include one burning or causing to be burned his own personal property unless there is injury to another person or to another person’s structure, forest land or property.

Elements of Arson

In order for the prosecution to prove someone guilty of arson as defined by Penal Code section 451 or 452, they have to prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant set fire to or burned or caused the burning of a structure/forest land/property; AND
  • The defendant acted willfully and maliciously – Penal Code section 451
  • The defendant acted recklessly – Penal Code section 452.

“Set fire to or burn” means damaging or destroying at least part of something, no matter how small that part is.

A “structure” is any building, bridge or tunnel.

The defendant acts willfully when he or she does something on purpose.

The defendant acts maliciously when he or she intentionally does a wrongful act or when he or she acts with unlawful intent to defraud, annoy or injure someone else.

The defendant acts recklessly when he is aware that his actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk or causing a fire, he ignores that risk and ignoring that risk is a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would do in that same situation.

The defendant can also act recklessly when he does an act that presents a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire but he is unaware of the risk because he is voluntarily intoxicated.

If the defendant burns his or her own property, it is NOT arson, unless he or she acts with intent to defraud or the fire injures someone else or someone else’s structure, forest land or property.

Other Consequences

Not only can an arson conviction lead to criminal penalties, but it can also have drastic employment, licensing and immigration consequences. Arson crimes are considered crimes of moral turpitude, which are crimes that relate to a person’s good character. Having an arson conviction can prevent a person from finding a job or lead to a person being fired from their current job. Furthermore, many professions that require licensing from a state board, such as doctors, pharmacists, nurses, lawyers, accountants, contractors, teachers, real estate agents and stock brokers, all require background checks. A professional who has an arson conviction on their record risks losing their professional license, or never acquiring it in the first place. Perhaps the most severe impact of an auto theft conviction involves immigration consequences. Non-citizens who are permanent residents, with green cards, or temporary visitors, with a visa, can be denied admission, denied naturalization or even deported, with an arson conviction on their record.

The Right Lawyer

Choosing the right criminal defense lawyer will be the most important decision someone can make when facing criminal arson charges. You need an attorney who will listen to your side of the story carefully, who will evaluate the evidence thoroughly, who will negotiate with the judge and the District Attorney’s office skillfully, and who will fight in trial aggressively. You need an attorney like Fred Thiagarajah.

As a former Deputy District Attorney, Fred Thiagarajah has the negotiating skills and trial experience necessary to get the best results for his clients, both in their criminal cases and in their immigration consequences. Fred Thiagarajah has helped clients with theft charges before. For examples of his work, please see his Case Results or Client Testimonials. With offices in Newport Beach, Beverly Hills and Riverside, Fred Thiagarajah has criminal defense experience in the counties of Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside.

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