In Pennsylvania, arson is considered a very serious crime and can involve major consequences. If convicted of a serious type of arson, the accused will almost certainly face incarnation and loss of career and reputation. Therefore, if you or someone you know has been arrested for or is currently being investigated for arson, you need advice from a criminal defense lawyer who is experienced in handling arson crimes. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Kope & Associates will work hard to protect your rights and preserve your freedom.
Arson, originally a common law offense defined as the willful and malicious burning of the dwelling of another or adjacent structures, is now governed in Pennsylvania by a statute that divides the offense into seven distinct crimes related to the setting of fires or causing of explosions:
- Arson endangering person
- Arson endangering property
- Reckless burning or exploding
- Dangerous burning
- Failure to control or report dangerous fires
- Possession of any explosive or incendiary material or device with the intent that such material or device be used to commit any of the arson or reckless burning or exploding offenses
- Certain conduct pertaining to the disclosure of the true owner of real property involved in arson or a related offense
The term “occupied structure” means any structure, vehicle or place adapted for overnight accommodation of persons or for carrying on business therein, whether or not a person is actually present. If a building or structure is divided into separately occupied units, any unit not occupied by the actor is an occupied structure of another. The phrase “property of another” means a building or other property, whether real or personal, in which a person other than the actor has an interest which the actor has no authority to defeat or impair, even though the actor may also have an interest in the building or property.
Depending on the type of arson for which a person is charged, the grading of that crime can range from a simple summary offense all the way up to a felony of the first degree. For example:
Arson endangering person
Arson endangering person is a felony of the first degree and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. A person who commits arson endangering persons is guilty of murder of the second degree (punishable by life in prison) if the fire or explosion causes the death of any person, including, but not limited to a firefighter, police officer, or other person actively engaged in fighting the fire. Such an actor is guilty of murder of the first degree (punishable by death) if the fire or explosion causes the death of any person and was set with the purpose of causing the death of another person.
A person commits arson endangering persons if such person intentionally starts a fire or causes an explosion, or if such person aids, counsels, pays or agrees to pay another to cause a fire or explosion, whether on his or her own property or on that of another, and if such person: (1) recklessly places another person, including, but not limited to, a firefighter, police officer, or other person actively engaged in fighting the fire, in danger of death or bodily injury; or (2) commits the act with the purpose of destroying or damaging an inhabited building or occupied structure of another.
Arson endangering property
Arson endangering property is a felony of the second degree and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
A person commits the offense of arson endangering property when the person intentionally starts a fire or causes an explosion, whether on the actor's own property or that of another, or aids, counsels, pays or agrees to pay another to cause a fire or explosion, and the person: (1) commits the act with the intent of destroying or damaging a building or unoccupied structure of another; (2) thereby recklessly places an inhabited building or occupied structure of another in danger of damage or destruction; or (3) commits the act with the intent of destroying or damaging any property, whether the actor's own or that of another, to collect insurance for such loss. The offense of arson endangering property is intended to protect property (as opposed to persons) from fire.
Reckless burning or exploding
Reckless burning or exploding is a felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison.
A person commits the offense of reckless burning or exploding when such person intentionally starts a fire or causes an explosion, or if such person aids, counsels, pays, or agrees to pay another to cause a fire or explosion, whether on his or her own property or on that of another, and thereby recklessly places: (1) an uninhabited building or unoccupied structure of another in danger of damage or destruction; or (2) any personal property of another having a value that exceeds a statutorily set amount ($5,000.00) or if the property is an automobile, airplane, motorcycle, motorboat, or other motor-propelled vehicle in danger of damage or destruction.
Dangerous burning is a summary offense punishable by 90 days in jail.
A person commits the offense of dangerous burning when such person intentionally or recklessly starts a fire to endanger any person or property of another whether or not any damage to person or property actually occurs.
Failure to control or report dangerous fires
Failure to control or report dangerous fires is a misdemeanor of the first degree punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
A person who knows that a fire is endangering the life or property of another and fails to take reasonable measures to put out or control the fire, when such person can do so without substantial risk to himself or herself, or to give a prompt fire alarm, commits an offense if: (1) such person knows that he or she is under an official, contractual or other legal duty to control or combat the fire; or (2) the fire was started, albeit lawfully, by such person or with such person's assent, or on property in such person's custody or control.
A person who possesses, manufactures, or transports any incendiary or explosive material with the intent to use or to provide such device or material to commit arson endangering persons, arson endangering property, or reckless burning or exploding, commits a felony of the third degree, which is punishable by up to 7 years in prison.
Certain conduct pertaining to the disclosure of the true owner of real property involved in arson or a related offense
Law enforcement officers investigating a violation of the Crimes Code section pertaining to arson and related offenses may require a trustee of a passive trust or trust involving an undisclosed principal or straw party to disclose the actual owner or beneficiary of the real property in question. The name of such actual owner or beneficiary of real estate, when obtained by reason of compliance with this requirement, is not to be disclosed except as an official part of the investigation and prosecution of the arson or related offense. A person who refuses to disclose a name as required by this section of the Code or who discloses a name in violation thereof is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree punishable by up to one year in prison.
Depending on the type of arson crime for which a person is charged, the crime of arson can carry jail time, ranging from a relatively minor period of incarceration to a very significant one. It is, therefore, imperative to hire an experienced defense attorney who understands the crime of arson and how to defend against it. The experienced defense attorneys at Kope & Associates understand the intricacies of arson and the various defenses to this crime. These knowledgeable attorneys will look at the evidence thoroughly to determine the best possible defense, including, but not limited to, issues involving identification, police misconduct and other suppression issues. The defense attorneys at Kope & Associates will use their knowledge and experience to aggressively pursue the best possible outcome by developing the strongest possible defense.
If you or someone you love has been charged with arson in Harrisburg, York, or surrounding areas of Pennsylvania, please contact Kope and Associates as soon as possible for a free consultation. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.