The crime of Arson is codified in 18 PACS 3301 under the heading “Arson and Related Offenses.”  Under the Statute, there are two separate types of Arson, “Arson Endangering Persons” and “Arson Endangering Property”.

What Is The Difference?

Besides the obvious difference that one crime requires a person and the other requires property, you also face different gradings and sentences if convicted of one crime other the other.

First, let’s look at “Arson Endangering Persons”.  In order to be found guilty of this crime, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania must prove that you started, or helped start, a fire or explosion on your property or another’s property.  It is a felony in the first degree if that fire or explosion harms someone or is started with the intent to harm someone.   It is second degree murder if that fire or explosion kills someone.  Finally, you may be found guilty of first degree murder if the fire or explosion was set with the intent to kill someone and did kill someone.

Second, let’s look at “Arson Endangering Property”.  For this type of Arson, the Commonwealth must initially prove that you started, or helped start, a fire or explosion on your property or another’s property.  Next, the Commonwealth must prove that your started the fire or explosion to destroy a structure, that your fire or explosion placed another inhabited building in danger of damage, OR that you started your fire or explosion in order to collect insurance money.  This crime is considered a felony in the second degree.

What About Other Crimes Involving Burning or Explosions?

The Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes also include other, less common crimes involving burning and explosions.  These crimes are:

  • Reckless Burning or Exploding
  • Dangerous Burning
  • Failure to Controls or Report Dangerous Fires
  • Possession of Explosive or Incendiary Materials

Most of these crimes are considered felonies.  Even though they are not as common as the two types of Arson listed above, they can carry serious sentences if you are found guilty.

What Are Other Penalties Associated with Crimes of Arson?

If you are found guilty of ANY of the crimes listed above, a criminal record and jail sentence is not your only worry.  Under Pennsylvania Law, if you are convicted of violating the Arson Statutes, you are prohibited from serving as a firefighter anywhere in Pennsylvania.

If I Am Charged With Arson, What Are My Defenses?

Defending Arson cases can be tricky.  The first defense is that you are not the one who started, or aided in starting, the fire or explosion.  The Commonwealth must be able to prove this fact beyond all reasonable doubt.  Next, if the Commonwealth is able to prove that you started a fire or explosion, it has to prove that your fire or explosion was the main cause of physical damage to another person or property.  Again, the Commonwealth must prove this fact beyond a reasonable doubt.

Finally, there is a very important defense that comes with the other, less common, offenses listed above.  If you are charged with Reckless burning or Dangerous burning of a vehicle, you are no guilty of the crime if the vehicle was uninsured, and you delivered a written sworn statement demonstrating your ownership of the vehicle, free and clear of any encumbrances, to the State Police 48 hours before burning it.

What Should You Do If Charged With Arson?

If you are charged with Arson, or any other the other crimes listed above, you are looking serious jail time and fines if you are convicted.  Therefore, it is always important to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side.  Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Attorney Matthew Becker has successfully aided multiple criminal defendants in having cases dismissed or in reaching positive results.  Give his office a call at 412-209-0657.  He will take the time to speak with you personally and help you through all stages of your case.