We frequently see in the movies and on television crime shows the individual that burns down a house or a building being charged with the crime of Arson. In reality it is much more than that. The crime of arson, at common law, was the malicious and voluntary or willful burning of another’s house or other structure appurtenant to the house or dwelling with the curtilage. The curtilage of the dwelling house is the area close to and surrounding the house and is used for family purposes. This includes yards, gardens, garages, barns and other outbuildings.
At common law the concern was the protection of those persons who might be in the structure from being burned. Today however, arson consists of much more. It relates to the property itself and includes occupied and unoccupied buildings. It also includes abandoned buildings and personal property. For example:
A person finds out that their spouse or significant other has been having an affair. So they go to the closet and gather up all of the spouse’s or significant other’s clothes and pile them up in the yard. They go to the shed and get a can of gasoline and pour it on the clothes, strike a match and light the clothes on fire.
In this instance, the aggrieved spouse can be charged with Third Degree Arson because the burning of the other person’s property is considered arson if the value is $25 or more.
Varrying Degrees and Penalties for Arson
There are varying “degrees” of arson. Each degree carries with it a different penalty that is based on the “class of felony” attached to it. For instance:
Nevada law defines “First Degree Arson” as when a person willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, or aids, counsels or procures the burning of any:
- Dwelling house or other structure or mobile home, whether occupied or vacant; or
- Personal property which is occupied by one or more person, whether the property of the person or of another is guilty of arson in the first degree which is a class B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years, and may be further punished by fine of not more than $15,000.
Similarly, Nevada law defines “Third Degree Arson” as when a person willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, or aids, counsels or procures the burning of:
- Any unoccupied personal property of another which has a value of $25 or more;
- Any unoccupied personal property owned by him or her in which another person has a legal interest; or
- Any timber, forest, shrubbery, crops, grass, vegetation or other flammable material not his or her own, is guilty of arson in the third degree which a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.
You will note that in the first example relating to First Degree Arson the punishment is stated in the statute itself, whereas in the second example of Third Degree Arson the punishment shall be as provided in another statute entirely. You will also notice that the ownership of the property burned is relevant. The correct interpretation of that applicable law is critical. Therefore, it is important that you seek the advice of a Las Vegas Attorney experienced in criminal defense.
Elements of Arson
In Nevada, and most other states, crimes are defined by statute and consist of what are referred to as the “elements” of the crime. When a person is charged with a crime the prosecution must allege and prove each and every element of the crime alleged or the accused cannot be found guilty. For example, as noted above, Nevada Statutes define First Degree Arson as:
A person who willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, or who aids, counsels or procures the burning of any, 1) dwelling house or other structure or mobile home, whether occupied or vacant, or 2) Personal property which is occupied by one or more person, whether the property of the person or of another is guilty of arson…
The elements of the crime are that the person must willfully (the setting of the fire must be a conscious, intentional act done knowingly and according to purpose) and maliciously (with a design to do an intentional wrongful act toward another, or toward the public, without any legal justification, excuse or claim of right) set fire to or otherwise cause to property to be burned. If the prosecution cannot establish that a defendant has acted both willfully and maliciously and caused property to be burned, the defendant should not be convicted.
As with all criminal cases, knowledge of the law is critical to the success in defending the claim. Therefore, it is very important that you hire the services of a knowledgeable attorney.
Burning Property with Intent to Defraud Insurer
While not specifically defined as arson, the burning or aiding and abetting burning of property with the intent to defraud an insurance company has been categorized as a class B felony and is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 6 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $5,000.
This often comes up when someone arranges for the “theft” and later destruction of a motor vehicle that has become too expensive for the owner to continue payments.
Persons Who Aid, Counsel or Procure
There are significant penalties for any person who aids, counsels or procures the burning or attempted burning of property. Those penalties are that same as for the act of arson itself. If you have been accused of aiding the act of arson you should seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
In addition to the penalties of prison time and potential fines, the court may order a person to pay; 1) Court costs; 2) the costs of providing police and fire services related to the crime; or 3) the costs of the investigation and prosecution of the crime, or any combination of the three.
Being charged with the crime of Arson is an extremely serious matter and if found guilty you could face a significant prison sentence and fines. Therefore, it is extremely important that you hire an experienced Las Vegas Attorney to defend you. The Wright Law Group, P.C. has more than 20 years experience prosecuting and defending Criminal cases and is well equipped to assist you in handling your case. Please call us at 702-405-0001 to schedule a consultation.