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About San Diego Criminal Law Center

San Diego Criminal Law Center was created to provide useful information for anyone charged with a crime in San Diego and throughout the state of California. Author and attorney Vikas Bajaj has over 16 years of criminal defense experience. If you have been charged with a crime or under investigation, read our articles for useful info that may help you during this difficult time.


A 26-year-old San Diego man has been arrested on suspicion of arson. According to police, at least 12 fires were set on various streets and alleys in Ocean Beach. While no one was physically injured in the fires, they did cause approximately $23,000 in property damage. Several cars, trash cans, and a fence were among the items destroyed in the late-night fires. While specifics have not been released, the 26-year-old will likely face charges for arson and/or reckless burning.

Arson and Reckless Burning in San Diego

It can be a crime to set fire to or burn property that doesn’t belong to you. Both arson and reckless burning deal with setting illegal fires. The criminal charges will depend on your intent when you started the fires.

Malicious Arson

Malicious arson, as defined in Penal Code 451 PC, is the crime of willfully and maliciously setting fire to a structure, forest land, or property.

Willfully: Willfully means that you commit an act on purpose. You don’t don’t have to intend to break the law. For the purposes of arson, you just have to intend to burn or set something on fire.

Maliciously: Maliciously means that you set a fire to injure, annoy, or defraud someone else. This means that you have to intend to harm someone else by setting the fire.

You can be charged with malicious arson if you should have been aware that your actions were very likely to start a dangerous fire. You can also be charged with malicious arson even if you don’t start a raging fire. The fact that you burn or damage property with willful and malicious intent is enough to warrant charges.

Examples:

  • You throw a red-hot cigarette into someone’s trash can at their home with the intent to start a fire.
  • You douse your neighbor’s car in lighter fluid and throw a match into the passenger compartment.
  • You attempt to burn down your ex’s house after a fight, but only succeed in singing the yard.

Reckless Burning

Reckless burning, which is also known as reckless arson, is defined in Penal Code 452 PC. This occurs when you recklessly set fire to or burn a structure, forest land, or property.

Recklessly: Reckless means that you are aware of and ignore a substantial risk. Ignoring that risk is not what a reasonable person would do. Recklessness involves much more than negligence.

Examples of reckless burning:

  • Throwing a firecracker into a dry field.
  • Igniting a lighter next to flammable materials.
  • Throwing a cigarette butt into a trash can filled with paper or flammable materials.

Starting a fire by mistake or accident does not mean that you will face criminal charges for reckless burning. The state will have to prove that you knew about a risk and ignored the potential consequences.

What are the Penalties for Arson in San Diego?

Arson can be a misdemeanor or a felony. The charges will depend on:

  • Your intent
  • The number of fires
  • The type of property you burned or destroyed
  • The extent of the property damage
  • Whether anyone was personally injured, and
  • Your history of criminal behavior.

Malicious Arson

Malicious arson is a felony in San Diego and will count as a strike on your record. Penalties will depend on the factors outlined above.

  • Malicious arson of personal property: 16 months – 3 years in prison.
  • Malicious arson of a structure or forest land: 2 – 6 years in prison.
  • Malicious arson causing great bodily injury: 5 – 9 years in prison.

Setting a fire for financial gain can also subject you to additional financial penalties. This can include a fine of (a) $50,000 or (b) twice the amount of your expected gain from the fire.

Reckless Arson

Reckless arson can be a misdemeanor or a felony in San Diego. Penalties will depend on the factors outlined above.

  • Misdemeanor reckless arson of personal property: 6 months in a San Diego County jail
  • Felony reckless arson of personal property: 16 months – 2 years in prison.
  • Misdemeanor reckless arson of a structure or forest land: 1 year in a San Diego County jail
  • Felony reckless arson of a structure or forest land: 2 – 4 years in prison
  • Misdemeanor reckless arson causing great bodily injury: 1 year in a San Diego County jail
  • Felony reckless arson causing great bodily injury: 2 – 6 years in prison.

Aggravated Arson

The penalties for malicious and/or reckless arson can be aggravated in certain situations. This means that you will be subject to harsher penalties for your crime. Aggravated penalties will apply if:

  • Multiple structures are burned
  • More than one person is hurt
  • You have a prior conviction for arson
  • You accelerate the fire
  • You use a device to time or delay the fire
  • A peace officer is injured because of your fire
  • You knowingly set fire to a place of worship, or
  • You set fire to an inhabited structure.

The most serious arson crimes are punishable by 10 years to life in a California state prison.

San Diego Arson Defense Attorney

Setting fires can have serious criminal consequences. The penalties for arson will have immediate and devastating consequences. The stakes will be even higher if your actions cause someone to get hurt. Contact the San Diego Criminal Law Center if you or someone you know has been arrested for arson. Our criminal defense attorneys will thoroughly investigate your alleged crime and come up with a strategy for your case. We will help you minimize the consequences of your arrest. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.

A 24-year-old Vista man has been arrested for falsely identifying himself as a San Diego sheriff’s deputy. According to reports, the man visited several San Diego businesses and reported that he was an undercover officer. Employees of several local restaurants witnessed the man interacting with area youth, became concerned, and called police to report the suspicious activity.

Police investigated the claims and determined that the man was falsely identifying himself as an officer of the law. The investigation also uncovered the fact that the man was using his alleged authority to detain young men and confiscate their skateboards. The man was located and arrested near the Wave Waterpark earlier this month.  Searches of the man and his home uncovered fake sheriff’s department business cards, sheriff’s deputy’s uniform, and badges.

Impersonating a Peace Officer

In California, it is a crime to impersonate a police officer or other officer of the law. Specifically, Penal Code 538d PC explains that “any other person other than one who by law is given the authority of a peace officer, who willfully wears, exhibits, or uses the authorized uniform, insignia, emblem, device, label, certificate, card, or writing, of a peace officer, with the intent of fraudulently impersonating a peace officer, or of fraudulently inducing the belief that he or she is a peace officer” is guilty of the crime of impersonation.

In simpler terms, it is a crime to intentionally and fraudulently attempt to make others believe that you are an officer of the law. This can be accomplished by wearing a uniform, creating a fake badge, passing off a genuine badge that is not your own, or even creating business cards to support your fraudulent claim.

What is a Peace Officer?

Penal Code 538d PC explicitly states that it is a crime to impersonate a peace officer. In California, peace officers can include anyone who “meets all standards imposed by law on a peace officer, including:

  • Sheriffs
  • Undersheriffs
  • Deputy sheriffs
  • Police officers
  • Officers of consolidated public safety agencies
  • Firefighters
  • Court marshals or deputies
  • Port police officers
  • Port wardens
  • San Diego Unified Port District Harbor police
  • Public safety agents, and more.

Generally speaking, anyone who has the lawful authority of a peace officer, or who is appointed by a chief or director of a public safety agency, will be classified as a peace officer.

Penalty for Impersonating a Peace Officer

Impersonating a peace officer in violation of California state law is a misdemeanor offense. The penalty will depend on the circumstance of each specific case.

Willfully wearing/exhibiting/using a peace officer’s badge to fraudulently induce others to believe you are a peace officer:

  • Maximum of 12 months in a San Diego County jail; and/or
  • $2,000 in fines.

Willfully wearing/exhibiting/using a falsified badge or card to induce others to believe you are a peace officer:

  • Maximum of six months in a San Diego County jail; and/or
  • $2,000 in fines

Making or selling fraudulent peace officer badges, insignias, or cards:

  • Maximum of six months in a San Diego County jail; and
  • $15,000 in fines.

Selling a law enforcement uniform to someone other than an employee of the agency:

  • $1,000 in fines.

If you are convicted for impersonating a peace officer you will be burdened with a criminal record. This record will have the ability to affect every aspect of your life. You will find that it is difficult to get a job, rent an apartment, and even secure a loan.

Defending False Impersonation Charges in San Diego

Have you been accused of falsely impersonating a peace officer in San Diego? It’s important to speak with an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. Just because you have been accused of a crime does not mean that you will be charged or convicted. You have the right to defend yourself, and the San Diego Criminal Law Center can help.

As your attorneys, we will thoroughly investigate your supposed crime and determine the best legal strategy for your defense. Remember, the state cannot convict you of a crime unless it can show that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Any evidence that can cast doubt on the prosecution’s case can be helpful in minimizing the consequences of your arrest.

Call us today to schedule a free consultation with our skilled legal team. We will review your case, explain your legal rights, and outline the best arguments for your defense. The state will begin to build its case against you immediately, so do not hesitate to call us for help now.

Police officers, elected officials, and other government employees are not above the law. While on-duty government employees may be able to enjoy certain rights and privileges, but they are still expected to be law-abiding citizens on their own time. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Earlier this year, a 14-year-old girl reported that she had been touched inappropriately while standing in line at a Vista restaurant. After a thorough investigation, police have arrested Timothy Wilson, a Vista detention deputy with more than 10 years on the job, for the crime. Wilson, who is tasked with taking care of the inmates at the Vista jail, has been charged with one felony count of lewd acts with a child.

Lewd Acts With a Child

While all sexually-based crimes in San Diego are taken very serious by the state, those involving children and young people tend to receive extra attention. Children, including young teenage girls, are often not equipped with the physical strength and emotional courage necessary to thwart sexual predators. The young woman who was the victim in this case never even saw her attacker coming. After the incident, she admitted that she lived in continued fear that he would strike again. Even though Wilson did not engage in sexual activity with the girl, his actions have likely scarred her for life.

Penal Code Section 288 PC

California has crimes like “lewd acts with a child” on the books to punish this kind of behavior. California Penal Code Section 288 PC makes it a crime to “willfully and lewdly commit any lewd or lascivious act…upon or with the body, or any part or member thereof, of a child…with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person or the child.”

In other words, it is a crime to touch a child in a lewd or sexual manner with the intent to arouse or gratify sexual desires.

Age of the Child

Penal Code 288 PC generally refers to lewd acts with children under the age of 14, but can also apply to lewd acts with children under the age of 16. However, if the victim 14 or 15, the defendant must be at least 10 years older than the child they are accused of molesting. This helps to prevent prosecution of young romantic partners for engaging in minor acts of sexual behavior.

What is a Lewd Act?

A lewd act can be defined to mean:

  • Touching a child for a sexual purpose
  • Having the child touch themselves for your own sexual gratification, or
  • Having a child touch you for your own sexual gratification.

Simply put, a lewd act is sexually-charged touching between an adult and a child. There is no requirement that a lewd act with a child involve a sexual organ, such as the genitals, anus, or female breast. The fact that the touching is done for sexual arousal or gratification is enough.

Consequences for Lewd Acts With a Child

Lewd acts with a child can be a felony or misdemeanor in California. However, the penalties that can be imposed will depend on the very specific circumstances of each individual case. Factors that will affect the penalty include:

  • The child’s age
  • Whether force was used to commit the act
  • Whether the child suffered great bodily harm
  • Your prior convictions and/or status as a habitual sex offender.

Felony Lewd Acts With a 14 Year Old Child

Here, Wilson is facing charges for one felony count of lewd acts with a child under the age of 16, which is a violation of 288(c)(1) PC. It is important to note that this specific crime can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The state has indicated that this is a very serious matter, perhaps due to Wilson’s status as a government employee, by choosing to pursue felony charges. If convicted, Wilson can face up to 3 years in prison and be required to pay $10,000 in criminal fines.

Sex Offender Registration

Anyone who is convicted of lewd acts with a child will be required to register as a sex offender in the state of California. This can make it incredibly difficult to get a job, rent or buy a home, and travel freely. The social stigma of being a convicted sex offender is enough, on its own, to destroy your future.

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorneys

Anyone who is charged with a crime in San Diego has the right to defend themselves. This is true regardless of the type of crime you’re accused of committing. If you are facing criminal charges in San Diego, do not hesitate to contact the San Diego Criminal Law Center for help.

Our attorneys understand that your future is on the line and will fight to protect your legal rights. We will aggressively defend you against any allegations of criminal wrongdoing and work to secure the best possible outcome in our criminal matter. Call us today to schedule a free case evaluation with our skilled San Diego criminal defense attorneys.