Arson is an incredibly serious crime in Florida. The burning of a dwelling house, commercial building, or any other structure, like a barn, for example, is inherently dangerous and costly. Not only does the fire endanger all of the occupants inside of the structure when the fire is lit, it also threatens the lives of the fire department personnel, emergency medics, and police officers who try to save people trapped inside and extinguish the fire. If you are charged with arson in Florida, you must seek the counsel of an experienced and dedicated Florida criminal defense attorney.
Musca Law’s Florida arson defense attorneys have represented thousands of people charged with crimes, including arson, in all courts in Florida. Our vast experience, coupled with a sterling reputation for excellence, will ensure that your rights are steadfastly protected from governmental infringement. We recognize that state attorneys and law enforcement officers aggressively investigate fires that were suspected of having been caused by arson. Investigators will stop at nothing to identify a suspect, and state attorneys will argue vehemently for long, harsh prison terms. With all of the resources of local, state, and perhaps even federal law enforcement descending upon you and only the most experienced and savvy prosecutors handling arson cases, a person facing arson charges in Florida must have an experienced arson defense lawyer who knows how to handle tough cases.
Florida Statute Chapter 806 – Arson and Criminal Mischief
Arson is a crime taken straight from the common law the United States adopted from England. At common law, arson was defined as the malicious act of burning another’s dwelling, meaning a house or another building connected to the home. Interpreters of common law believed that arson was an inherently dangerous felony, in line with murder, rape, and armed robbery.
Florida law incorporates the common law definition of arson but widened the language to encapsulate as many dangerous acts as possible. Chapter 806 of the Florida Statutes defines arson and related charges. In addition to arson, Chapter 806 also defines additional crimes such as:
- Aggravated arson, which is arson with injury resulting;
- Preventing or obstructing attempts to extinguish a fire;
- Calling in False Fire Alarms;
- Fire Bbombs; and
- Criminal Mischief.
The length of a prison sentence a judge could impose on a person convicted of committing arson, and any related charges, depend upon several factors including the severity of the crime, including whether a person was killed or wounded, the severity of the property damage, the offender’s criminal history, and any other factor relevant to sentencing.
Section 806.01 of the Florida Statutes defines arson broadly. In Florida, arson in the first degree is setting fire to or exploding a building either willfully or while committing another felony and that building is a dwelling, even if unoccupied, or a structure where people typically congregate. The statute cites examples of places where people often congregate, such as hospitals, nursing homes, jails, office buildings, churches, schools, and stores. The list is not intended by the legislature to be exhaustive. The definition of arson in the first degree in Florida also includes the burning of a building while a human is inside. First-degree arson is a first-degree felony charge in Florida. A first-degree conviction arson carries with it a 30-year maximum prison sentence. However, if someone dies in the fire, then the charge could become a capital felony or a life felony.
Second-degree arson is any burning or exploding of a building willfully under the circumstances, not amounting to first-degree arson. Second-degree arson is a second-degree felony and is punishable by a prison sentence not to exceed fifteen years.
Section 806.031 of the Florida Statutes criminalizes committing arson that causes an injury. The section is, in essence, a strict liability crime, meaning the government does not have to prove the accused wanted to hurt someone. Moreover, the absence of intent to injure is not a valid defense. The government must prove the arson component of the crime, that is, the individual charges unlawfully and willfully started a fire. But subsection three (3) of the statute indicates that a conviction for arson is not a requirement to convict under this statute.
If a firefighter or some other individual gets hurt while responding to the blaze, then the person who sets the fire is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a first-degree felony in Florida is a one-year jail sentence. However, if the injury sustained by the victim results in a permanent disability, great bodily harm, or permanent disfigurement, then the crime is a second-degree felony, punishable of up to fifteen years in Florida’s state penitentiary.
Section 806.111 of the Florida Statutes defines possession of a fire bomb as having control over, manufacturing, transporting, or otherwise disposing of fire bomb accompanied by the specific intent that the device will be used to start a fire or damage a structure. Possession of a fire bomb is a third-degree felony that allows for the incarceration of the offender to no more than five years in state prison. The definition of a fire bomb is broad. It covers a container holding a flammable liquid or chemical compound that could be ignited by a wick or exploded by a device.
Defenses to Arson Charges in Florida
Defending a charge of arson in Florida involves a thorough analysis of the facts developed during the law enforcement investigation. Arson cases will involve some expert testimony. For example, an arson examiner would need to testify about accelerants, the origin of the fire, how it spread, why it spread how it did, and how fast the fire spread. Experts might also testify about the scent of accelerants of the hands of the suspect and what procedure was followed to preserve the evidence. Attacking the credibility of experts, destroying their assumptions, and impeaching their conclusions is necessary to present a viable defense.
Identification is the lynchpin of the case. Without proper identification of the suspect, the government cannot obtain a conviction. Identification procedures may be subject to unlawfully suggestive procedures resulting in a due process violation. A due process violation requires the judge to suppress the out-of-court identification of the accused by witnesses.
Finally, the motive is always a viable theory for the defense. The government has no duty to prove the defendant’s motive to commit the crime. Notwithstanding, failing to prove motive could be fatal for the government’s case.
Call Musca Law Today to Start Your Florida Arson Defense.
Call Musca Law today at (888) 484-5057 to schedule a free consultation with our seasoned Florida attorneys. We will defend your rights vigorously at every stage in the process to help you avoid lengthy prison sentences for an arson conviction.