Fires start for a number of reasons – like accidents and natural disasters. But if someone ignites a fire intentionally and maliciously – for money or revenge, let’s say – it’s arson, and it’s a crime. If you are charged with arson, you’ll need to contact a Massachusetts arson attorney at once.
More than five hundred incidents of arson were reported in Massachusetts in 2018. And according to the FBI, in 2017, more than 41,000 arson incidents were reported in the United States. The FBI also estimates that the average dollar loss per arson that year exceeded $15,000.
How is arson dealt with by the Massachusetts criminal justice system? What steps should you take if you are charged with committing an act of arson? Keep reading, and you’ll learn the facts about arson – and about your rights if you’re accused of arson – in the state of Massachusetts.
WHAT CONSTITUTES ARSON IN MASSACHUSETTS?
Arsons are committed in Massachusetts for reasons ranging from insurance fraud to domestic violence to boredom. Most bombings are considered arsons, and arson can also be charged against anyone burning forest lands or any properties valued at or above twenty-five dollars.
Arson in Massachusetts is intentionally and maliciously setting a fire, attempting to set such a fire, or aiding someone who attempts to set such a fire. Even setting flammable substances or materials in a location with the intention of causing a fire later at that location constitutes arson.
HOW ARE ARSON CONVICTIONS PENALIZED IN MASSACHUSETTS?
Like most other criminal penalties, the penalty for an arson conviction will depend on the details of the case and the defendant’s previous criminal convictions. Arson may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor in Massachusetts, again depending on the details of the case.
Felony arson is usually the charge if someone sets fire to a home or a dwelling while anyone is inside. A conviction for felony arson in Massachusetts may be penalized with up to twenty years in prison.
On the other hand, a conviction for arson as a misdemeanor in Massachusetts may be penalized with up to a year in jail and substantial fines.
Additionally, anyone who is convicted in Massachusetts of intending to deceive or defraud an insurance company can be sentenced to as much as five years in prison and fined up to $10,000.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO CONVICT SOMEONE OF ARSON?
The exact charges that an arson defendant will face will be based on factors such as the structure’s occupancy (or non-occupancy) and whether or not fraud was a motive for the arson.
Torching an occupied building in the middle of Boston, as you might imagine, will lead to a more serious arson charge than burning an abandoned structure in a rural setting. To convict someone of arson, the state must prove these elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:
1. The defendant set or caused the fire or aided or solicited the person who did.
2. The fire was set or caused intentionally, and it was not an accident.
3. The defendant acted maliciously with an unlawful motive and with no lawful excuse.
The structure or property that was targeted for arson doesn’t have to be destroyed, and an insurance fraud doesn’t have to succeed. All that a prosecutor really has to prove to win an arson conviction is that a defendant set a fire intentionally and maliciously.
An arson charge is a serious criminal accusation, and if arson takes place on – or targets – federal property, it can be prosecuted as a federal crime. A conviction on a federal arson charge can send a defendant to prison for up to twenty-five years – or for life if anyone was placed in danger.
IF YOU’RE ACCUSED OF ARSON, WHAT STEPS SHOULD YOU TAKE?
If you’re charged with arson as a state or federal crime, whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony, you cannot be defended by the wrong Boston arson attorney. Instead, you must be represented by a defense attorney who has considerable experience handling arson cases.
Because a catastrophic fire is sometimes in the news for weeks, the pressure on authorities to find an arsonist may be strong. Suspects may be “hauled in” on the slimmest evidence. It’s not hard to get tangled up in a wide-ranging investigation and find yourself falsely accused of arson.
Whether you are guilty or innocent, if you are facing an arson charge in Massachusetts, you’re going to need the legal help that only an experienced arson attorney can provide.
EXERCISE YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS
If you are arrested on an arson charge, or even if you’re only being questioned, exercise your right to remain silent. Don’t answer any questions except to insist on your right to have your lawyer present for questioning. Remember – anything you say can be used against you.
Don’t even think about acting as your own attorney. Both the law and the science in arson cases is exceedingly complicated, and again, anything you say could be twisted and used against you. You’ll need to contact and consult a good Massachusetts arson attorney as quickly as possible.
HOW DO GOOD DEFENSE ATTORNEYS HANDLE ARSON CASES?
A good arson attorney will scrutinize the evidence against you, interview the witnesses, review the official arson investigation, and work aggressively for the best possible outcome to your arson case.
Depending on the particulars of the case, a good defense lawyer may offer one of the following defenses against an arson charge:
1. The forensic and scientific evidence in the case is inaccurate or inconclusive. A defense attorney may also challenge the qualifications or credentials of the arson investigators.
2. The fire was an accident, and the defendant had no intention or criminal motive to set the fire.
3. Someone else committed the arson. The defendant was misidentified or falsely accused and has an alibi.
You already know that if you are charged with any crime in Massachusetts, a good defense lawyer’s help is your right. If you’re facing an arson charge, exercise that right at once.