Generally, when a fire has been purposefully set and destroys buildings or other property, it constitutes the criminal offense of arson. Given the damage caused by arson, and the not infrequent result of harm or death to people, arson is aggressively prosecuted in New York and comes with severe penalties upon conviction.
Under New York law, there are five degrees of arson, all of which involve the intentional setting of a fire or causing an explosion. An accidental fire should not be the basis of an arson charge, though an intentionally set fire that accidentally causes damage or harm can be. Broadly speaking, the distinctions between arson crimes in New York involve the intent with which the fire or explosion was triggered, whether there was a significant risk that the fire or explosion would cause injury or death, and whether anyone was in fact hurt or killed as a result of the arson.
New York arson charges are as follows:
- Arson in the Fifth Degree. A person is guilty of arson in the fifth degree when he or she intentionally damages property of another without consent of the owner by intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion. Arson in the fifth degree is a class A misdemeanor.
- Arson in the Fourth Degree. A person is guilty of arson in the fourth degree when he recklessly damages a building or motor vehicle by intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion. It is a defense to a fourth degree arson charge to assert that no person other than the defendant had a possessory or proprietary
interest in the building or motor vehicle. Arson in the fourth degree is a class E felony.
- Arson in the Third Degree. A person is guilty of arson in the third degree when he intentionally damages a building or motor vehicle by starting a fire or causing an explosion. It is an affirmative defense to this charge if no one other than the accused owned or had an interest in the damaged property or if any other owners consented to the accused’s conduct and the intent was solely to destroy property without any reasonable grounds to believe that the conduct would endanger anyone. Arson in the third degree is a class C felony.
- Arson in the Second Degree. Generally, a person is guilty of arson in the second degree when he intentionally damages a building or motor vehicle by starting a fire, and someone else was in the property or vehicle and the accused knew that there was a reasonable possibility that someone was present. Arson in the second degree is a class B felony.
- Arson in the First Degree. First degree arson is the most serious arson charge one can face in New York and is a class A-1 felony. You can be convicted of arson in the first degree if you intentionally set a fire or caused an explosion to intentionally damage a motor vehicle or building; and
- the fire was caused by an incendiary or explosive device; or
- a person other than yourself was seriously injured as the result of the fire; or
- you set the fire for financial gain; and
- there was a person present in the vehicle or building when the fire was set and you knew or reasonably should have known that there was a person in the vehicle or building.
All of these charges come with significant prison time and hefty fines upon conviction, including the possibility of life in prison for a conviction of arson in the first degree. If you have been charged with arson of any kind, you need to contact an experienced New York arson defense attorney at your earliest opportunity. Please call us (718) 852-6763 to speak with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys now.