Arson Laws in California - Penal Code 451 and 452 PC 

As you might guess, Los Angeles County prosecutors and judges deal with arson cases quite harshly. However, in my twenty-five years of handling these cases, I have noticed different levels of seriousness when it comes to arson cases. There is those case where lives are lost, and the person who set them showed a callous disregard for human life; there are those cases where someone is just trying to burn their property, and things get out of hand, and of course, there is everything in between.

In my experience, when prosecutors are trying to figure out how to deal with an arson case, they will look at several important factors related to the case before they decide what their position will be.

When it comes to an arson case, or any severe cases, for that matter, I want to make sure I get to them with mitigation information before they make any decisions that can not be taken back. This way, I can say what happens to my client instead of simply being the bearer of bad news. Hard work and preparation must go into every case to achieve the best result possible.

Law Related to Arson Cases 

There are many different legal nuances in arson cases that your criminal defense attorney must explore before any decisions are made on your case. Suppose the prosecutors have strong cases against you and insist you plead guilty to an arson-related offense. In that case, the next move is to try and convince them that your conduct was an aberration that will never happen again.

If this can be accomplished, then there is a chance that they will agree that down the line, you can take back your arson plea and substitute a different, less serious crime in its place. In California, arson is charged as a felony and separated into intentional arson and reckless arson, governed by California Penal Code Section 451 and 452.

Intentional arson is to willfully and maliciously burn a building or property. The suspect had the intent to burn the property. Reckless arson is to set a fire recklessly. For example, tossing a burning cigarette into a dry bush or firing up the grill near a tree and causing the burning of a property can be considered reckless arson.

Regardless of which category, an arson conviction results in a strike on your criminal record. It is considered a severe offense, and arson is investigated by special law enforcement units that use advanced and sophisticated chemical analyses to determine the origin of the fire and its cause. The investigations can take up to a year, so early intervention by our criminal attorneys is crucial. If you or someone you know is facing arson charges, contact us immediately.

How to Defend an Arson Case?

Arson usually involves somebody intentionally lighting a building or home on fire for whatever reason, and then the prosecutors can get their conviction. Sometimes there are problems with proof in these cases because I've seen that they're not actually lighting on fire a building or a home – but on the other hand, some outer structure is being lit on fire. 

So, the argument would be that that person had no intent to burn down the home or a building. Other times, the prosecutors can't prove that the client is the one who set the fire. 

And another defense that I've seen in arson cases is that it was an accident.  The person did not intentionally try to set the location on fire.  So, we need to look at the facts and circumstances surrounding the case when we decide exactly how we will defend the case.

Fight the Case or Negotiate a Plea Bargain?

The way I look at it, there are two ways to defend the case.  One is that you fight the case all the way – take it to a jury trial, file whatever motions you can to get the case dismissed, try to get that not-guilty verdict, investigate the case – and then the chips fall where they may, whether the jury finds the client innocent or guilty. 

The other way to defend the case is to try to mitigate it. For example, sometimes, we file motions to get it dismissed or weaken or take away some of the prosecution's evidence. 

Sometimes I'll do a preliminary hearing in one of these arson cases to show the prosecutor the weaknesses in their case, even though we'll probably not take the case to trial. But I still want to try to damage it because that puts us in a stronger negotiating position. 

Breaking Down the Details of the Case

We will break down the facts and see what evidence they have to prove the case. If there are weaknesses in the case, then obviously, I'm going to try to exploit that to either get a dismissal or to work out a better resolution for you than you would typically get. 

That's something we have to talk about from the beginning to decide what path we will take to get you the result you need in your arson matter:

  • One path has the case being dismissed;
  • Another path has the case being resolved through some resolution.

Of course, everybody wants their case dismissed, but they must prove that they did not commit the arson.  Technically, the prosecutors have the burden of proof, but the defense is also responsible for saying that you did certain things.

We've got to talk about how we're going to prove you didn't do those things and that you're not responsible for arson – either there was no arson because no building or home was burned down.

Perhaps you're not the one that caused the building or home to be burned down, or you may be responsible for it. Still, there are some mitigating circumstances that the police, prosecutors, and judge need to know about to assess how to handle your case. 

If that's the route we take, we'll get character letters, and I will meet with the head prosecutor to try to bring you the best possible resolution for your arson matter.

To convict you, the prosecution has the burden of proving that you either intended to set fire to property or acted recklessly that caused a fire. As your advocate, we refute every piece of evidence presented against you by asserting any applicable defense, showing any ambiguities or inaccuracies, or showing that there is insufficient evidence.

Either way, we do everything to get you the best possible results. Your best interest is our top priority. Pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.  I stand at the ready to help you.