The 2019 wildfire season in California kicked off in October as the Santa Ana winds surged throughout the state. The strong gusts mixed with the hot weather creates the perfect conditions for wildfires in the state every year.
While many fires are started by natural causes (i.e. a lightning strike) or by accident (i.e. a downed power line), there are some that caused by negligence or an intentional act. In California, intentionally or recklessly setting a fire is considered “arson,” which is a serious crime.
Arson is defined as illegally setting fire to any property, building, or forest land. There are two main types of arson punishable by state law: malicious arson and reckless burning.
Malicious arson means that the defendant set fire to or burned down someone's property, a structure, or forest land with intent and malice. While this type of arson is always a felony offense, the extent of the prison sentence depends on the circumstances of the crime.
The following are the potential penalties for malicious arson in California:
- Malicious arson of private property such as a home or dwelling – Prison sentence of up to either 16 months, two years, or three years and/or a fine no more than $10,000.
- Malicious arson of a public structure or forest land – Prison term of up to either two, four, or six years and/or a maximum $10,000 fine.
- Malicious arson of an inhabited property or structure – Prison term of up to either three, five, or eight years and/or a fine not exceeding $10,000.
- Malicious arson resulting in a bodily injury – Prison sentence of up to either five, seven, or nine years and/or a maximum $10,000 fine.
On the other hand, reckless burning means a person burned or set fire to a property, structure, or forest land in a reckless manner by acting carelessly while being aware of his/her dangerous actions would cause a fire. Reckless burning is a wobbler, meaning the defendant can either be charged with a misdemeanor or felony.
A misdemeanor conviction for reckless burning carries a maximum six-month jail term and a fine no more than $1,000. A felony conviction for reckless burning can result in a prison sentence of up to either two, three, four, or six years.
However, a person can be charged with aggravated arson if he/she has been previously convicted of felony arson, used a device to speed up the fire or slow down the process of putting out a fire, if more than one individual is injured, if more than one structure was burned, if a police officer or firefighter suffered the injury, or if the structure was a place of worship. Aggravated arson is punishable by up to a life prison sentence.
If you have been accused of arson in Ventura, contact Wilfert Law P.C. today at (805) 994-0560 for a free consultation.