Some states have different degrees of arson charges. The charges are the same as murder charges, with 3rd-degree arson being the least severe charge and first-degree arson carrying the biggest sentence. Things are different in California where there aren’t any varying degrees of arson charges.
Instead of separating arson into three different degrees, at some point, the state’s lawmakers decided that the circumstances surrounding each arson case would determine if the defendant was charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
Misdemeanor arson charges are pursued when a person uses poor judgment while doing something with fire. For example, if someone is playing with matches and lights a neighbor’s barn on fire, they’ll likely face misdemeanor arson charges. The same may be true if a person is burning leaves, stops paying attention and fails to notice that the fire has gotten out of control.
Felony arson charges are pursued when one of two things happens. A) there’s evidence that the fire was intentionally or willfully set. B) someone was injured/killed during the fire. When a person is killed during a fire that was willfully set, it’s likely that in addition to facing felony arson charges, the defendant will also be charged with homicide.
Unlike some cases where charges are filed almost as soon as a crime is discovered, it often takes a while before anyone is charged with arson. The reason for the delay stems from the length of time it takes to investigate the fire. Not only does it sometimes take a little while for the fire investigator to determine that the fire was the result of arson. It often takes even longer to determine the severity of the damage the fire left in its wake.
Getting charged with arson is not a laughing matter. It’s an offense that is being taken with increasing seriousness now that California residents understand just how quickly a minor fire can morph into a life-destroying wildfire.
If you’re convicted of felony malicious arson, the sentence is two, four or six years for malicious arson if that fire took place on personal property. If the fire you set involved a structure, or forest land, the sentence is two, four or six years in a state prison. If you set fire to an inhabited building, the sentence is three, five or eight years in a state prison. If the fire injures someone, you could be ordered to spend the next 9 years of your life in a state prison.
When it comes to fire, make sure you’re extremely careful and diligent each time you start one. Even a small fire can quickly grow out of control.