Arson is a criminal offense that occurs when a person intentionally and maliciously sets fire to another’s property. The term ‘property’ can refer to a house or building, but it also includes motor vehicles, and even open land.
Fires caused by arson result in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries annually. They destroy buildings, outdoor areas, family homes and vehicles such as cars and boats. In fact, the burning of one’s own property can also be considered arson, if done for an improper purpose. This is common when a person wishes to collect money by making a fraudulent homeowner’s insurance claim. In Massachusetts, arson is a felony.
It is estimated that the crime of arson costs about $1.4 billion in property damage every year. Statistics show that arsonists most often target poor areas and abandoned buildings. If you have been charged with arson, you may be facing serious penalties and significant time behind bars. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed.
In order to convict someone of arson in MA, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following elements:
- The burned property had a value exceeding twenty-five ($25) dollars;
- The property – that belonged to another person – involved real estate, or personal property;
- The accused intended to burn the property, or caused the property to be burned, intentionally and not merely by accident.
- The accused burned the property maliciously, meaning that there was an unlawful motive behind the act, without lawful excuse.
The hardest element for the prosecution to prove in an arson case is that a defendant was “willful and malicious” when he or she set fire to the property, or caused it to be burned. This is good to know if you are currently facing arson charges; the prosecution often struggles when trying to establish the defendant’s state of mind at the time the crime was committed (i.e. it may be extremely difficult, for example, to prove that a person using fireworks intended to burn his neighbor’s house to the ground). This is why it is so important to have knowledgeable, experienced legal counsel if you are facing arson charges. A MA defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with arson.
The crime of arson carries some serious penalties. As with most crimes, however, the penalties and punishment depend on multiple factors, including prior criminal history, aggravating circumstances, and the value of the damaged property / injuries. If you are convicted of arson in Massachusetts, you may be facing the following penalties:
- If you acted “wantonly,” (as opposed to maliciously) – a maximum of two-and-a-half years in jail, and a fine of $1,500, or three times the value of the damage, whichever is greater;
- If your actions were willful and malicious – up to 10 years in prison, and fines of $3,000 or three times the amount of the damage caused;
- Restitution (financial payment to victims intended to compensate for damages suffered);
- Probation sentence of at least 12 months, and up to five years.