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The broader definition of arson, and the one most popularly used, is property damage via fire or explosion to privately-held property.
Arson can also occur if you intentionally cause destruction or damage by fire. If you start a fire that burns a home or business or causes forest fires and burns non-structures, such as crops, you could be charged with arson.
Arson is also defined as an attempt to, or an act of, destroying property or assets belonging to the United States — or which the federal government is responsible for — by fire or explosive.
There are six types of arson: single, double, triple, mass, spree and serial. The first three types refer to the number of different points of fire that are started to create a single blaze. Mass arson refers to four or more fires set at the same location to create a single fire, while an arson spree refers to a situation in which fires are set at three different locations at roughly the same time (accounting for travel, but with no lengthy period of time in between). A serial arsonist, by contrast, would be if you are responsible for setting multiple fires over a period of time.
Motives can also differentiate between the types of arsonists, from profit to revenge to pure excitement. Attempting to conceal a crime is another popular reason for arson.
Arson is typically charged by degree or severity of the crime in most jurisdictions, with the majority of the states aligning with either a three or four-degree system.
Fourth-degree arson, where applicable, applies to an act of attempted arson. Penalties are generally the lightest in response to this degree of the offense, as compared to the more serious types that actually result in property damage or loss of life.
Third and second-degree arson refer to situations in which a property, area or structure is burned down or damaged by explosives with nobody present. Charges are generally escalated from third to second-degree arson if the degree of property damage is substantial, often based on the monetary value cost as a result of the offense.
First-degree arson generally applies whenever an act of arson is committed upon an area or structure in which people are present, or if people are not known to be present yet the fire results in the grievous bodily harm or death of someone within the structure or area. As can be expected, charges of first-degree arson result in much heavier penalties if you are convicted than the previous degree of the crime.
If intent to create the fire or cause the explosion being charged cannot be established, this may present a problem for the prosecution.
In many jurisdictions, reckless burning is a stand-in charge for situations in which individual(s) started an unlawful and unwanted fire resulting in damage. The penalties for reckless burning are usually much less serious than those given for the crime of arson.
It is possible for arson charges to be dropped by the prosecution. Usually, the dropping of charges comes in response to a strong position adopted by an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Lack of intent is one of the most viable defenses against arson charges. If there is a definite lack of substantive evidence to show that you intended to start a fire or create an explosion resulting in damage to a person or property, you may be able to get the charges dropped entirely.
The price schedule for attaining adequate legal counsel when facing arson charges rests on a very flexible sliding scale. Attorney fees can often range anywhere from $150 to $700 per hour and up.
Based on those ranges, a misdemeanor arson charge can cost you between $2,000 to $4,000 to defend (to provide an estimated range) while felony charges are much more expensive and often cost in excess of $10,000, depending on whether a favorable plea bargain can be easily negotiated or whether your case has to go to trial.
Expenses can go even higher if there is a great deal of nuance and research involved in your case, or if your case is expected to drag out in trial (by the estimation of your attorney). Please note: The estimates above are provided as an example only, and are not a guarantee that an attorney will charge that particular amount.
If you are suspected of arson or have been arrested for arson, you should consider hiring a Mountain Brook criminal defense lawyer who handles arson cases as soon as possible. The lawyer can protect your rights and defend you in court.
The more experienced a lawyer is in legal practice, the more likely they may be able to bring about a successful resolution to your case.
Look for information about a lawyer’s experience and ask questions during the initial meeting. It’s a good idea to ask how many years they have been practicing law and the expected outcome of your case.
It is in your best interest to get legal help early on in addressing your situation. There are times when hiring a lawyer quickly is critical to your case, such as if you are charged with a crime. It may also be in your best interest to have a lawyer review the fine print before signing legal documents. A lawyer can also help you get the compensation you deserve if you’ve suffered a serious injury. For issues where money or property is at stake, having a lawyer guide you through the complexities of the legal system can save you time, hassle, and possibly a lot of grief in the long run.
An attorney consultation should provide you with enough information so that you can make an informed decision on whether to proceed with legal help.
Bill by the hour: Many attorneys bill by the hour. How much an attorney bills you per hour will vary based on a number of factors. For instance, an attorney’s hourly fee may fluctuate based on whether that hour is spent representing you in court or doing research on your case. Attorneys in one practice area may bill you more than attorneys in a different practice area.
Contingent fee: Some lawyers will accept payment via contingent fee. In this arrangement, the lawyer receives a percentage of the total monetary recovery if you win your lawsuit. In sum, the lawyer only gets paid if you win. Contingent fee agreements are limited to specific practice areas in civil law.
Flat fee: For “routine” legal work where the attorney generally knows the amount of time and resources necessary to complete the task, he/she may be willing to bill you a flat fee for services performed.
Pro se – This Latin term refers to representing yourself in court instead of hiring professional legal counsel. Pro se representation can occur in either criminal or civil cases.
Statute – Refers to a law created by a legislative body. For example, the laws enacted by Congress are statutes.
Subject matter jurisdiction – Requirement that a particular court have authority to hear the claim based on the specific type of issue brought to the court. For example, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court only has subject matter jurisdiction over bankruptcy filings, therefore it does not have the authority to render binding judgment over other types of cases, such as divorce.