Deliberately setting a property on fire is arson, a criminal offense. In most cases, the crime is a felony, and that means years in jail and serious fines in the thousands. You may also be ordered – if convicted – to pay restitution for the property you allegedly burned.
S.L. England, an aggressive and resourceful criminal defense attorney representing clients in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia, knows how serious this offense can be for a person if convicted. It's not only the punishment you face, but the collateral consequences caused by having a criminal record – like difficulty finding a job or a safe place to live. If you have been charged with an arson offense in the District of Columbia or Alexandria, Virginia, contact S.L. England today.
What is Arson in the District of Columbia?
In D.C., arson is governed by D.C. Criminal Code § 22–303. Under this code, a person commits arson when he or she destroys another person's or entity's property by fire. The property can be either real or personal property not belonging to the alleged offender. It is also criminal to burn your own property if doing so was intended to defraud or injure another person (D.C. Criminal Code § 22-302).
The prosecutor must prove all the elements of the offense before you can be convicted, and that also means proving mens rea – you criminally intended to cause the fire to destroy or otherwise damage property. In some cases, too, the government must show that you acted without mitigation, meaning you did not act in the heat of passion after being adequately provoked.
Punishment can include the following:
- if the property was not yours and the damage was valued at less than $200, you face up to $1,000 in fines and/or jail for up to 180 days;
- if the property was not yours and the damage was valued at more than $200, you face up to $5,000 in fines and/or prison of up to 10 years;
- if the property was yours and fraud is proven, you face up to 15 years in prison.
What is Arson in Virginia?
In Virginia, arson is governed by Virginia Code §§ 18.2-77 to 18.2-88. The offense is most commonly charged under section 18.2-77, which refers to the malicious burning of a dwelling house (a place of residence) by fire or explosive device as opposed to any other structure or building.
To win a conviction, the prosecutor must prove:
- there was an incendiary act (in other words, burning);
- you caused the incendiary act; and
- you did it with criminal, malicious intent, meaning the incendiary act was not caused by an accident but was intentional and on purpose without just cause or excuse.
Punishment for any arson conviction can result in serious prison time and steep fines. The offense is only a Class 1 misdemeanor when the value of the damaged property is less than $200. This can result in up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Anything above $200 is a felony.
The classification of the felony is dependent on the facts and circumstances of the crime. The maximum prison sentence is life in prison and the maximum fine is $100,000. The maximum punishment is reserved for worst-case scenarios, but it does exemplify the gravity of this offense and the need for an experienced criminal defense attorney.
What Should You Do if Charged with Arson in the D.C./Virginia Metro Area?
Arson not only damages property, but it puts people's lives at risk. That means the government will do all it can to prosecute and win a conviction. Contact S.L. England either online or at (202) 489-0720if you want a strong defense against the arson charges laid against you in Washington, D.C. or Alexandria, Virginia.