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Arson Charges

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What is Arson?

Malicious arson, Penal Code 451, is when someone sets fire to any building, forest, land, or property willfully and maliciously. Arson even applies when someone sets fire to his or her own property if any of the following are true:

  • The property is a building or other type of real estate.
  • The property is set on fire to claim insurance.
  • The fire causes injury to another person or someone else’s property.

Reckless arson, Penal Code 452, refers to unlawfully setting a fire recklessly. This means that the defendant was aware that his or her actions could cause a fire and those risks were ignored. The actions of the defendant must be far from how a reasonable person would act in the same situation.


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Elements of Malicious Arson

In order to be guilty of malicious arson, the defendant has to have set fire or burned a structure, forest land, or property with willfull or malicious intent.
The fire doesn’t have to be completely destructive. Even if only a small area is damaged, it is still malicious arson.

What is a structure?
A structure is any building, bridge, tunnel, power plant, or commercial or public tent.

What is forest land?
Forest land is any brush covered land, cut-over land, forest, woods, or grasslands.

What is property
Property refers to any personal property. This could be a home, boat, bike, or even clothing.

To commit arson willfully means the defendant did it on purpose. Maliciously means the defendant intentionally committed a wrongful act with the intent to defraud, injure, or annoy someone else.

Elements of Reckless Arson

In order to be guilty of reckless arson the defendant has to have set fire to or burned a structure, forest land, or property recklessly.

According to Penal Code 452, recklessly means that the defendant was aware that his or her actions could cause a considerable and inexcusable risk of starting a fire, that risk was ignored, and acting in this way is far from the way a reasonable person would act in the same situation.

Penalties for Malicious Arson

Malicious arson is always a felony in California. The potential penalties depend on what was burned or set on fire, but they generally are punished by time in a California state prison. The potential punishments include:

  • Malicious arson of personal property – 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years
  • Malicious arson of a structure or forest land – 2, 4, or 6 years
  • Malicious arson of an inhabited structure or property – 3, 5, or 8 years
  • Arson that causes great bodily injury – 5, 7, or 9 years

In addition to California state prison time, there is a possible fine up to $10,000. There can even be an additional fine of $50,000 or double the amount gained or anticipated to gain from setting the fire if the fire was set for financial gain.
Malicious arson also counts as a strike in California’s Three Stike Law.

arson charges

Penalties for Reckless Arson

Reckless arson is a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor the penalties include up to 6 months in a county jail and/or a fine up to $1,000.

Reckless arson can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony if the property that is burned is a structure or forest land or if it causes great bodily injury. The penalties vary depending on what was burned

  • Reckless burning of a structure or forest land – Up to 6 months in a county jail (misdemeanor) or 2 or 3 years in a state prison (felony)
  • Reckless burning of an inhabited structure or inhabited property – Up to 1 year in a county jail (misdemeanor) or 2, 3, or 4 years in a state prison (felony)
  • Reckless burning causing great bodily injury – Up to 1 year in a county jail (misdemeanor) or 2, 4 or 6 years in a state prison (felony)

Legal Defenses for Arson

Most of the time arson cases are formed from circumstantial evidence. While this type of evidence is admissible in California criminal trials, it is harder for the prosecution to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

It’s possible to be falsely accused of arson if someone is trying to point the blame away from themselves or collect the reward money.

Eyewitness accounts have become very unreliable, leading to a lot of false charges. It’s possible the defendant is the same body build as the actual perpetrator. This could result in a mistaken identity.

Fire investigators can be quick to assume that a fire was caused by arson. A skilled defense attorney will be able to find out the truth.

Have you been legally accused of committing arson? If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is essential to obtain legal council for help. It’s important to take your charges seriously. Don’t just hope for the best. Hire an attorney who understands your situation and the consequences you face.

Get Legal Help Today.
Phone: 559-691-6222

Your Defense Attorney for Arson Charges

I’m Mark A. Broughton and I’m here to fight for you. I have been a defense Attorney for 40+ years and have represented thousands of people accused of crimes. I have extensive experience representing citizens charged with Violent Crimes such as Gang Crimes, Gun Charges, Domestic Violence, and Kidnapping to name a few.

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About Mark Broughton:

Compassionate, highly experienced, exceptional reputation, ethical and honest:

Mark Broughton has been practicing law for over 40 years. He estimates that he has conducted over 200 jury trials – everything from DUIs, drug cases, sex cases, domestic violence, assaults, “three-strikes,” dozens of cases involving criminal street gangs, gun/deadly weapons, drive-by shootings, robberies, attempted murders, and murders, including special circumstance murder cases.

He has received many outright Not Guilty verdicts for his clients in all of these types of cases, including several murder cases – at one time between 2005-2007, the jury found his clients Not Guilty in four separate cases in a row.

Mark Broughton is qualified as a death penalty lawyer and is on the special circumstances/death penalty panel of attorneys in Fresno, California, where he is regularly appointed to special circumstances/death penalty murder cases by the Fresno County Superior Court.

Other Qualifications:
  • Certified Specialist Criminal Law, State Bar of California
  • Board of Trustees, State Bar of California
  • Chairman, Fresno County Bar Association, Criminal Law Section

Mark Broughton enjoys close relationships with his clients.  He sees every individual’s situation with compassion and empathy and believes that every person has the right to a fair trial and is innocent until proven guilty.

Above all, he enjoys helping reunite his clients and their families during and after dealing with perhaps the most difficult time in their lives, going through the challenging criminal process with them.

Practice Areas

  • Federal Crime 40%
  • White Collar Crime 20%
  • Violent Crime 20%
  • Criminal Defense 10%
  • Sex Crimes 10%

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