Tens of thousands of arsons are reported each year, including more than 1,000 in North Carolina. Arson and other burning offenses include fires set to structures, vehicles and other property.
What is Arson?
Arson means deliberately setting fire to another person’s home or one of their buildings next to the home. It is one of the most serious property crimes in North Carolina. Fire can quickly and swiftly damage or totally destroy a piece of property and, in the worst-case scenario, can cause death.
The only difference between first-degree arson and second-degree arson is whether the home or building was occupied when the fire was set. Either way, arson is a serious crime and charge. If you have been accused of arson, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can explain your rights and assist in your defense.
Types of Arson and Other Burning Offenses
The type of arson or related charge may depend on whether the fire was set accidentally or intentionally. For reference, here’s how the charge is determined:
This refers to the deliberate burning of another person’s occupied home or an occupied building next to the home. This is also known as aggravated arson and requires proof that the fire was set wilfully and maliciously. The maliciousness of aggravated arson can be prompted by emotional stress, which may influence a person to set fire to an occupied dwelling to instill fear or take revenge.
This is the deliberate burning of another person’s unoccupied home or building next to the home.
These cover a variety of crimes that involve the accidental or deliberate burning of property. Many truly accidental fires are set by children spurred by natural curiosity about fire. Accidental fires can also be set in a variety of other ways, such as falling asleep with a lit cigarette and lighting the couch or bed on fire, or not fully putting out a campfire.
Keep in mind, the answer to “what is arson?” is that the fire to another person’s dwelling was set “willfully and maliciously.” If you’ve been charged with arson and it was an accidental fire, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help prove the fire was not deliberate.
Another point to consider is that arson is a felony, as are most burning offenses. Evidence that an individual was in the process of planning or setting a fire is enough for the State to pursue arson or related charges.
If an individual is convicted of arson, the consequences depend on the severity and degree of the crime. Potential consequences include:
- Prison — If the fire was set to intentionally hurt or kill another person, an arson conviction can result in life in prison. Other prison sentences can range from 1 year to 20 years.
- Probation — Probation puts restrictions and requirements on the convicted person, such as checking in with a probation officer, requiring permission to leave the state and not committing any other crimes. If probation is violated, the person convicted can be sent to prison. Probation can last between 1 to 5 years.
- Fines — Fines can be added to prison or probation and can range from a few thousand dollars to $50,000.
- Restitution — Restitution means the person convicted must pay for the property destroyed by the fire.
If you’ve been charged with arson, you have the right to an attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be knowledgeable about the state law, the local courts and the local prosecutors. Your attorney can help gather evidence and hire experts if needed to solidify a defense strategy. At Wilson, Reives & Silverman, you’ll meet with our experienced criminal defense team and discuss your case in detail before making any decisions. Contact us for a consultation.