Insight into Arson from Two High-Profile Cases in California | Temecula & Murrieta Criminal Defense Attorney

Two high-profile arson cases made the national news in California recently.

One of them involved a huge blaze that caused millions of dollars in damage to an apartment complex currently under construction in LA; as reported in the news, police found accelerant in the midst of the destruction, and they have footage of two unidentified people at the scene.

The second arson case involved the San Francisco home where Mrs. Doubtfire was filmed, and which subsequently came under the ownership of a doctor. As reported in the news, the damage in that fire was minimal, as the homeowner apparently detected it and put it out. Police are seeking a former patient who might have gotten into a dispute with the doctor.

Some Insights into Arson

Although there are significant differences between the cases, both in the scope of the fire and perhaps in motive, they share an underlying similarity of setting fire to someone's property. (Also, though it isn't relevant to these cases, keep in mind that arson applies to forest fires as well.)

Some issues to consider from these two cases include the following:

Intention matters

On the surface, both cases appear to involve willful actions rather than recklessness. But it's important to confirm intention. A fire that's purely a matter of recklessness might lead to felony charges, but there's also the possibility of a misdemeanor charge (especially if no one suffers injuries and the property destruction isn't too severe, as in the second case). Arson perpetrated with willful, malicious intention, however, gets prosecuted as a felony.

Death and injury

Neither case resulted in death or injury. However, in determining what to charge you with and what penalties to apply to you, the courts will also look at the potential of your act to cause death or injury.

In the first arson case, for example, the fire began to affect neighboring buildings; with its magnitude and scope, it could have easily harmed anyone on the scene and might have put firefighters at risk.

As for the second case, the courts might ask if the perpetrator intended to harm the person inside (vs. the perpetrator thinking they were setting fire to a home that was empty at the time).

Had either arson case led to death, even accidentally, the perpetrators might now face charges of murder. Under California's "felony murder rule," you might get charged with first-degree murder if your actions during some other felony (such as arson) wind up killing someone - even if you didn't intend for anyone to die.

Setting fire to one's own property

Arson doesn't only apply to other people's property or to forest land. You can also get charged with arson if you set fire to your own property under certain circumstances (including perpetrating fraud). Although these two cases might involve outside perpetrators, the police will also generally check out the property owner for involvement in the crime.

If you need to defend against arson charges, don't hesitate to contact us. Arson is a serious crime that can lead to steep penalties. Prosecutors might charge you with the crime even if you didn't perpetrate it, and the courts might misunderstand your intention, alleging willful intention when fact it might have been recklessness that led to the fire.

Regardless of the details, you need a strong legal defense. We work with people in the Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Wildomar, Menifee, Winchester, Hemet, Corona and Riverside areas.

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