Understanding Types of Arson Charges in Pennsylvania

types of arson charges types of arson charges - SMT Legal

Pennsylvania arson law states that there are several types of arson charges which include:

First Degree Felony Charge for Arson

If a fire is set or an explosion occurs intentionally that endangers the life of a person, it is considered a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Both U.S. federal and Pennsylvania state prosecutors may file charges.

If a fire or explosion causes death, regardless of intent, a person can be convicted of murder in the second degree. This is a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Second Degree Arson Charge

Oftentimes, in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, arson charges may be brought against someone suspected of insurance fraud. A conviction of arson endangering property is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

It is also a second-degree felony to commit arson on an unoccupied structure or endangering nearby inhabited businesses.

If you were charged with intentionally or recklessly starting a fire that endangers a person or property without any actual damage or bodily injury, you still could face summary offense charges in Pennsylvania and up to 90 days in jail.

Third Degree Arson Charge

If you are charged with manufacturing or transporting explosives or explosive devices, you face a third-degree felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

You could also be charged with third-degree felony arson if you destroyed a boat, plane, motorcycle, or passenger vehicle worth more than $5,000.

You could also face this charge if you internationally set a fire that endangered a person or property, even if no damage occurred and no one was hurt. You’re also at risk if you fail to take any measures to control a fire or fail to report it in a timely manner.

Aggravated Arson Charges

When a fire is set to purposely kill someone, or people are endangered or killed by the fire, the defendant will likely face charges of aggravated arson. When the fire is set to commit homicide, the defendant can also be charged with murder in the first degree.

If the purposely set fire also kills others, a charge of murder in the second degree may be levied. This includes deaths of civilians as well as first responders such as firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and paramedics.

Pennsylvania Arson Law Explained

Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes

Section 3301 – Title 18

Arson is generally covered under Section 3301 – Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes covering arson, criminal mischief, and other property destruction. While arson is generally understood as burning a building or other property, there are several offenses listed that depend on various factors, such as:

  • If a property was damaged by the fire
  • If people were put in danger by the fire
  • If someone was injured or killed in the fire
  • If the fire was set by the defendant or they had someone else set it
  • If the fire was set on purpose or with reckless disregard
  • If the fire was set for profit, such as insurance fraud
  • If the purpose of setting the fire was to kill someone

Arson can also be charged to those who assist another person in causing the fire, including if they are paid to do it. Property can include any building or vehicle (such as campers or RVs) that is intended to serve as overnight accommodations. It can also involve cars, motorcycles, airplanes, and motorized boats, which usually result in a third-degree arson charge. The property doesn’t have to be completely burned down for the charges to apply. The prosecution just has to prove that the defendant started the fire or explosion on purpose. These factors will determine which of the following charges a person may face in addition to or instead of an arson charge. These charges can be filed as follows:

  • Attempted homicide
  • Causing a catastrophe
  • Causing or risking catastrophe
  • Criminal mischief
  • Dangerous burning
  • Not reporting or attempting to control dangerous fires
  • Possession of explosive or incendiary materials or devices
  • Reckless burning or exploding
  • Recklessly endangering another person
  • Risking a catastrophe

Potential Defenses Against Arson Charges in Pittsburgh

Your attorney will conduct an investigation and collect evidence showing your innocence and / or the potential involvement of other parties. The state’s prosecuting attorney bears the burden of proving your actions beyond a reasonable doubt. This means your criminal defense lawyer can work to poke holes in the state’s case against you. They can use forensic evidence, expert testimony, and other methods to protect your rights.

Some effective defense strategies in arson cases include:

  • Lack of intent: You did not mean to cause the fire or explosion. This could reduce your charge from criminal arson to reckless burning.
  • Non-human cause: The fire started due to lightning, a gas leak, or some other cause that wasn’t from a direct human action.
  • Pyromania: You suffer from a mental condition called pyromania, meaning you have an irresistible urge to set fires. Your attorney will work with psychiatric doctors to support a diagnosis. This is a very complicated arson defense.

Get Help Fighting Arson Charges

SMT attorneys SMT-attorneys - SMT LegalRegardless of the type of arson charge you are facing, you need reputable and experienced legal guidance to secure the best possible outcome in your case. Working with a skilled criminal defense attorney allows you to present the strongest argument against harsh penalties and damaging convictions.

Now is not the time to go it alone or try to understand how criminal trials work in an attempt to defend yourself. You put everything at risk when you do not seek professional legal assistance from an experienced Pittsburgh Arson attorney. When your future and your freedom are on the line, you need an excellent attorney to work aggressively to defend your rights. Contact the Pittsburgh criminal defense attorneys at SMT Legal to schedule a free consultation to discuss your options.