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What Constitutes an Act of Arson Under California Law?

What Constitutes an Act of Arson Under California Law?

Arson is a serious felony under California law. The state has also been increasingly sensitive to crimes of arson in recent times, as fire and burnings have scorched scores of the California region. If you have been unfairly accused of a crime of arson or have questions about post-conviction relief following an arson conviction, the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed can help you. In today’s blog post, we will go over the basics of California’s arson law, the criminal penalties for specific acts of arson, and who is eligible to expunge an arson conviction from their criminal record.

California’s Arson Law

Under Penal Code 451 PC, California makes it a crime for a person to willfully and maliciously set fire to a structure, forest land, or property or cause such a place to burn. So, in order for the prosecution to convict someone of arson, they must prove the following elements:

  • you set fire to or burned, or caused the burning of, a structure, forest land, or property; AND
  • you acted willfully and maliciously.

A structure might be a building, bridge, tunnel, power plant; forest land might be grasslands, woods, brush-covered land; and property might be clothing, trash. Criminal arson does not apply if you are burning your own personal property (unless the arson involved an intent to defraud or injured someone).

Note that setting fire to or burning something means damaging or destroying all or part of something with fire, no matter how small the damaged part might be. For example, charring wood on the edge of building is enough to constitute evidence of a fire or burning.

Some examples of arson under this statute might be setting fire to someone else’s car or causing a forest fire by intentionally throwing a lit cigarette into dry grass.

Will I Have to Go to Jail for Arson?

While arson may seem like a less serious and less common crime, it is strictly punished as a felony. The specific punishment will depend on a couple factors, such as the type of property that was burned and whether someone suffered a burn-related injury:

  • 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison for malicious arson of personal property;
  • 2, 4, or 6 years in state prison for malicious arson of a structure or forest land;
  • 3, 5, or 8 years in state prison for malicious arson that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn;
  • 5, 7, or 9 years for arson that causes great bodily injury.

Be aware that arson convictions may also have negative immigration consequences, potentially leading to deportation of a non-citizen or marking a non-citizen as inadmissible for citizenship. An arson conviction could also take away your gun rights, as California law prohibits convicted felons from acquiring or possessing a firearm in California.

Arson convictions are, however, eligible for expunction from your criminal record in certain situations. If you meet one of the following, you can petition for an arson conviction to be expunged from your record:

  • successfully complete probation; or
  • complete a jail term.

If you have been charged with arson or have questions about a felony arson conviction against you, the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed can help. We are deeply familiar with California’s arson laws, and we recognize our state’s laws are particularly sensitive to arson-related crimes, especially in recent times. Even the smallest offense related to burning or fire may trigger an arson accusation, so our firm is prepared to build a defense to fight the harsh penalties you may face.

Don’t let an arson conviction impact your future and take away your constitutional rights. Contact the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed for a free consultation to discuss your defense today.
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