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, 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.
- 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, 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 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 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.
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.