Arson is one of the most serious felonies under Florida law. Since arson inherently presents a grave danger to others, those accused of this crime face severe penalties if convicted. Arson is a felony, meaning that it is punishable by prison sentences.
Depending on whether someone is injured in the alleged arson, the accused could also face other related charges including assault or even attempted murder.
Given the severity of arson charges, it is important to contact a West Palm Beach arson lawyer immediately. Your qualified defense lawyer will fight to clear your name. In many cases, your lawyer may be able to reduce arson charges to something less serious.
Defining Arson under Florida Law
Arson is one of the most misunderstood crimes in Florida. Often, arson is characterized as someone setting anything on fire that does not belong to them. Actually, arson is narrowly defined under state law. According to Florida Code Section 806.01, someone commits arson in the first degree when they “willfully and unlawfully by fire or explosion, damages or causes to be damaged”:
- Any dwelling, whether occupied or not or its contents
- Any structure where people are normally present
- Any other structure that they knew or reasonably should have known was occupied by another person
Under this law, “structure” means any permanent or temporary building, as well as vehicles, watercraft, and aircraft.
Penalties for Arson Conviction
Someone who commits arson as defined above could face first-degree arson charges. Second-degree arson occurs when someone damages other structures (besides dwellings) where people are not normally present.
Potential penalties someone faces if convicted of arson in West Palm Beach include first-degree arson which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, and second-degree arson which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and up to $10,000 in fines.
Felony Murder in Arson Cases
Florida Code Section 782.04 states that when someone unlawfully kills another during the commission of a felony, such as arson, they could face a felony murder charge. Felony murder is a separate criminal offense from arson. This means that the accused could face both arson and murder charges.
Felony murder is punishable as first-degree murder, meaning if convicted, the defendant faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Capital crimes such as a felony murder are the most serious offense under state law. Anyone facing a felony murder charge in conjunction with an arson charge needs the help of a West Palm Beach arson lawyer.
Defending Against Arson Charges
Prosecutors have to show that a defendant intentionally caused damage to a dwelling or structure in order to convict them. Proving someone’s mindset is difficult, and prosecutors have to show beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant acted intentionally.
One way a lawyer can defend someone accused of this crime is to show they did not act intentionally. In many cases, arson charges are actually the result of damage caused by accident.
In those cases, a West Palm Beach arson attorney may be able to get the arson charges reduced to criminal mischief or another misdemeanor.
Talking to a Legal Advocate
If you have been charged with arson or any related crime, a West Palm Beach arson lawyer can help. Arson cases are often more complex than people think. It can be difficult to defend these cases which is why it is so important to get in touch with a qualified legal advocate. A skilled defense attorney can devote the time and resources necessary to build a strong defense for you.