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Arson in Florida

Criminal Defense Attorney in Florida

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Arson in Florida: A Comprehensive Guide by Leppard Law, Attorney at Law

Arson is a serious crime in Florida, with potentially life-altering consequences for those convicted. As a leading Orlando criminal defense law firm, we have years of experience in dealing with arson cases and are committed to ensuring that our clients fully understand the complexities of the relevant laws. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the definition of arson, the different degrees of the crime, and the penalties associated with each. Additionally, we’ll provide insights into the legal defenses that can be employed to fight arson charges.

What is Arson?

Arson is defined as the willful and unlawful damaging of any structure or property through the use of fire or an explosion (Florida Statutes § 806.01). A person can be charged with arson if they intentionally set fire to any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property, regardless of whether the property belongs to them or someone else.

What are the Elements of Arson in Florida?

Under Section 806.01, Florida Statutes, the elements of Arson in Florida are:

  1. A person caused damage to any structure by fire or explosion; AND
  2. The damage was done willfully and unlawfully, or it was done while a felony was being committed.

Definition of Structure

“Structure” means any building, enclosed area with a roof over it, land, tent or other portable building, vehicle, vessel, watercraft, or aircraft.

Arson Resulting in Injury to Another

Under section 806.031, Florida Statutes, you can be charged with the separate crime of Arson Resulting in Injury to Another if any person (including a firefighter) is harmed by any arson you committed, whether or not you meant to cause harm to anyone. In that case, you can be convicted and sentenced for both Arson and Arson Resulting in Injury to Another.

What are the Different Degrees of Arson?

In Florida, arson is classified into two degrees:

Degree of Arson Definition Florida Statutes
First-Degree Arson Occurs when a person willfully and unlawfully causes damage by fire or explosion to:
-Any dwelling, whether occupied or not, or its contents
-Any structure where people are normally present, such as a school, church, or healthcare facility, regardless of whether the structure is occupied at the time of the crime
-Any other structure that the person had reasonable grounds to believe was occupied by a human being
Florida Statutes § 806.01(1)
Second-Degree Arson Occurs when a person willfully and unlawfully causes damage by fire or explosion to any property or structure not covered under first-degree arson. Florida Statutes § 806.01(2)

What are the Penalties for Arson in Florida?

Arson Type Severity Level Maximum Penalty Minimum Permissible Sentence
First-Degree Arson 8 (74 points) Up to 30 years of prison or probation and a $10,000 fine 34.5 months (almost 3 years) in prison
Second-Degree Arson 7 (56 points) Up to 15 years of prison or probation and a $10,000 fine 21 months in prison
Arson Resulting in Injury to Another (First-degree misdemeanor) N/A Up to 1 year of jail or probation and a $1,000 fine N/A
Arson Resulting in Injury to Another (Second-degree felony) 6 (36 points) Up to 15 years of prison or probation and a $10,000 fine N/A

How Can I Fight a Charge of Arson?

Arson charges can be severe and carry significant penalties. However, there are several defense strategies that an experienced criminal defense attorney can employ to fight these charges. Here are some potential defenses:

Lack of Intent

Intent is a critical element in an arson case. The prosecution must prove that you intentionally started the fire or caused the explosion. If you can demonstrate that the incident was an accident or the result of negligence or recklessness, you may be able to avoid an arson conviction. For example, if a fire started because you forgot to turn off the stove or because a lit cigarette was accidentally dropped, your attorney could argue that you did not have the necessary intent for an arson charge. This defense requires a careful examination of the circumstances surrounding the incident and may involve expert testimony to support your claim.

Lack of Occupancy

To convict you of first-degree arson, the State must prove that the affected structure was a dwelling (essentially, a home) or that you should have known the structure could be occupied; otherwise, you can only be found guilty of second-degree arson, which carries less severe penalties. For example, one court reversed a conviction of first-degree arson for burning a barn when there was no evidence that the defendant should have known that the barn contained a small apartment inside. Similarly, another court found that the defendant could not be guilty of first-degree arson for setting a closed flea market on fire, even though there was a security guard in a nearby vehicle when there was no reason for the defendant to think that the security guard or anyone else was inside the flea market

Burning Your Own Property

While it may seem counterintuitive, you can be charged with arson for burning your own property if the act was unlawful. For example, if you set fire to your own property with the intent to defraud an insurance company, or if the fire also caused damage to someone else’s property, you could face arson charges. However, if you can demonstrate that you had a legitimate reason to burn your property, or that any damage to other properties was unintentional, you may be able to avoid a conviction. This defense would likely involve a thorough examination of your motives and actions, as well as the circumstances surrounding the fire.

Inaccurate Analysis of Forensics

Forensic evidence is often crucial in arson cases. However, the methods used to collect and analyze this evidence are not always accurate. If your attorney can demonstrate that the forensic analysis was flawed or biased, you may be able to challenge the evidence against you. This could involve bringing in your own forensic experts to review the evidence and testify on your behalf.

Mistaken Identity

In some cases, you may be able to argue that you were not the person who committed the alleged act of arson. This could be the case if the evidence against you is based on eyewitness testimony, which can be unreliable. Your attorney could present evidence to show that the witnesses are mistaken, or that you have been misidentified. This could include alibi evidence, such as witnesses or surveillance footage that shows you were somewhere else at the time of the fire.

Each of these defenses requires a thorough understanding of the law and a careful examination of the evidence. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you explore these and other potential defenses to fight an arson charge.

Expanded Defense Strategies

When facing arson charges, it’s crucial to have a comprehensive defense strategy. Here are some additional defenses that can be employed:

Alibi Defense

An alibi defense is a claim that you were somewhere else when the alleged arson occurred. This defense requires concrete evidence that places you at a different location at the time of the incident. This could involve witness testimony, such as friends, family, or coworkers who can vouch for your whereabouts. Additionally, surveillance footage from security cameras, ATM transactions, cell phone records, or even social media posts can serve as evidence to support an alibi defense. The key to a successful alibi defense is the credibility and reliability of the evidence and witnesses. It’s important to note that providing false information for an alibi defense can lead to further legal consequences.

Motion to Suppress

A motion to suppress is a legal maneuver used to exclude certain evidence from being presented at trial. This is typically used when a defendant believes that the evidence was obtained in violation of their constitutional rights. For instance, if law enforcement conducted an illegal search and seizure, any evidence obtained during that search could potentially be suppressed. This could include physical evidence, such as fire accelerants, or even confessions made without proper Miranda warnings. A successful motion to suppress can significantly weaken the prosecution’s case, but it requires a thorough understanding of constitutional law and criminal procedure.

Insanity Defense

The insanity defense is a legal strategy where a defendant admits the action but contends they were legally insane at the time of the crime and therefore should not be held responsible. This defense is complex and not commonly used in arson cases, as it requires substantial proof that the defendant was suffering from a severe mental disease or defect that impaired their ability to understand the nature and quality of their actions or differentiate right from wrong. Expert psychiatric or psychological testimony is typically necessary to support an insanity defense. It’s also important to note that even if the defense is successful, the defendant may still be committed to a mental institution.

Accidental Fire

In some cases, a fire may be the result of an accident rather than a deliberate act. If a fire is the result of an accident, it is not a crime – it is negligence and you can’t be convicted of arson. This defense requires expert testimony to demonstrate that the fire was accidental, not intentional. For example, a forensic fire investigator could examine the scene and provide evidence that the fire started due to an electrical fault, a gas leak, or some other accidental cause. This defense hinges on the credibility of the expert witness and the strength of the evidence they provide.

Improper Police Procedures

Law enforcement officials must follow certain procedures when investigating a crime and arresting a suspect. If these procedures are not followed correctly, it can sometimes provide a basis for a defense. For example, if the police failed to read you your Miranda rights at the time of your arrest, any statements you made may not be admissible in court. Similarly, if the police used coercive or deceptive tactics during interrogation, this could also provide a basis for a defense.

Insufficient Evidence

The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime of arson. If there is insufficient evidence to meet this high standard, you should not be found guilty. For example, the prosecution may rely on circumstantial evidence, such as your presence near the scene of the fire. However, being near the scene of the fire is not enough to prove that you committed arson. If the prosecution’s evidence is weak or circumstantial, your attorney can argue that they have not met their burden of proof.

False Confession

False confessions are more common than most people realize, and they can occur for a variety of reasons. For example, a person might confess to a crime they didn’t commit because they are scared, confused, or hoping for a more lenient sentence. If you confessed to arson but are now claiming that your confession was false, your attorney can help you explore potential defenses. This might involve demonstrating that your confession was coerced or that you were not in a proper state of mind when you confessed.

Entrapment

Entrapment occurs when law enforcement officers induce a person to commit a crime that they would not have committed otherwise. This can be a difficult defense to prove, as it requires showing that the idea for committing the crime came from the police, not from the defendant. However, if you can demonstrate that you were pressured or tricked into committing arson by law enforcement, this could provide a basis for an entrapment defense.

Each of these defenses requires a thorough understanding of the law and a careful examination of the evidence. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you explore these and other potential defenses to fight an arson charge.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can arson charges be reduced?

Yes, with the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney, it may be possible to have the charges reduced or even dismissed. This depends on the specifics of the case, including the evidence against you and any potential defenses.

2. What is the difference between arson and aggravated arson?

Aggravated arson is a more serious charge that typically involves a situation where the person committing the arson knew or should have known that the property was occupied or that the fire would put people in danger.

3. What is the process after an arson arrest?

After an arrest for arson, you will typically be booked into jail and then have an arraignment where the charges against you are formally read. You will have the opportunity to enter a plea, and then the case will proceed to pre-trial hearings and potentially a trial.

4. Can I be charged with arson if the fire was an accident?

Arson charges require that the fire was set intentionally. If the fire was truly an accident, this could be a strong defense against an arson charge. However, you could still potentially face other charges or civil liability depending on the circumstances.

5. What should I do if I’m falsely accused of arson?

If you’re falsely accused of arson, it’s crucial to get legal representation as soon as possible. Do not make any statements to the police without an attorney present. Your attorney can help protect your rights and work to build a strong defense on your behalf.

Contact Us to Fight for Your Arson Charges

Arson cases can be serious in Florida, with severe penalties for those convicted. If you or a loved one is facing arson charges, it is essential to seek legal assistance from the best criminal defense lawyer you can find. At Leppard Law, we have decades of experience in prosecuting and defending criminal cases. With our unique experience, we are aware of the legal strategies that can apply against you. We will work to formulate the most effective defense possible for your particular situation. Don’t wait — contact a criminal defense attorney today.

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