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Defending Against Arson Charges in the State of Florida

Each state has its own definition of arson. Arson, in Florida, is generally defined as damage to a home, dwelling, or other structure perpetrated by fire or an explosion. While the definition of arson, as defined by Florida statutes, tends to conjure up images of movie-like explosions or dramatic fires, police and fire investigators can charge a person with arson for much smaller or contained fires. Notwithstanding, Florida prosecutors and police officers treat arson as a particularly heinous and deadly crime. Naturally, anytime one person sets fire to a home, building, or another structure, the potential to kill is an ever-present threat.

Avoid Being Overcharged by Florida Prosecutors

Arson can be overcharged by Florida prosecutors. Sometimes a more appropriate charge might be simple damage to property, criminal mischief, or vandalism rather than an arson charge. That is why experienced and knowledgeable arson defense attorneys in Florida should be engaged if you were arrested for arson charges or are suspected of committing arson.

Florida Statutes §§806.01 to 806.14 define certain crimes relating to arson and establish the possible penalties a person convicted of those crimes faces. The offenses set out in §§806.01 to 806.14 are a broad category of offenses that encompass crimes such as:

  • Arson;
  • Arson that Causes Injury to Another Person;
  • Preventing or Obstructing Another from Extinguishing a Fire;
  • Calling a False Fire Alarm;
  • Fire bombs;
  • Criminal Mischief, along with destroying art in a public building; and
  • Willfully Damaging Art in Public Buildings.

The facts and circumstances of the underlying events will determine which charges the police can bring. Some of the preceding charges are public order offenses such as calling in a false fire alarm, criminal mischief, or willful damage to art in public places could be charged as misdemeanors, whereas other charges such as arson are felonies.

Arson is defined by Florida Statutes §806.01(1) as the unlawful damaging to a dwelling, even if it is not occupied, committed willfully by fire or explosion, or during the commission of any felony. The entire structure need not be destroyed by fire or explosion. Instead, arson charges apply to fires that damage the contents of the structure rather than the entire dwelling. Arson charges also apply to fires set in or on structures in which people would be expected to be present. Structures such as jails, hospitals, detention centers, prisons, health care facilities, department stores, business establishments, office buildings, educational institutions, or schools during normal business hours churches, and restaurants all qualify as structures under the arson statute. Additionally, arson charges may apply to any building or structure which the perpetrator of the arson reasonably believes was occupied by another human. Commission of arson under these circumstances is a first-degree felony subjecting the offender to 30-years in prison or even life imprisonment.

Arson is a second-degree felony under Florida Statutes §806.01(2) if a person unlawfully, but willfully started a fire or explosion and damaged a structure that is not referenced in subsection (1). Examples of property not referenced in subsection one would be motor vehicles and boats.

Understanding the definition of structure is important to forming a defense under §806.01. Under subsection (3), A structure is a building of any kind that has an enclosed area and a roof or any piece of real property, any tent or other portable structure, as well as any motor vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, or vessel.

Section 806.031 penalizes arson that causes an injury to another. Any person who starts a fire, even if that person did not have the intent to hurt another, but does injure another, is subject to a first-degree felony. Additionally, any person who commits arson that results in great bodily harm to emergency personnel or any other individual, even if the perpetrator did not intend to cause such an injury, is a second-degree felony.

Section 806.10 establishes the crime of preventing or, in some way, obstructing the attempts by others to extinguish a fire. Anyone who has willfully or maliciously destroyed, removed, damaged, or somehow interferes with any vehicles, tools, water supplies, hydrants, towers, buildings, equipment, or communication facilities that can be used to report or put out a fire is guilty of a third-degree degree felony. Additionally, anyone who unreasonably interferes assaults attempts to interfere or hinders a firefighter trying to perform his or her sworn duties is also guilty of a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony in Florida results in the potential incarceration of the offender for up to five years.

False reporting of a fire is also a crime in Florida. Under §806.101, pulling an alarm or calling out a fire without any justification is a first-degree misdemeanor. A person convicted of the first-degree misdemeanor in Florida could face up to one year in county jail, along with a fine and probation. However, the crime becomes a third-degree felony if the person committed the crime previously.

Possession of a Fire Bomb in Florida

Possession of a fire bomb in Florida is a third-degree felony. Section 806.111 of the Florida Statutes Indicates that anyone who builds, transports, possesses, or somehow disposes of a fire bond and at the same time has the intent of the fire bomb will be used unlawfully to create a fire or explosion in any structure or on any property is a third-degree felony. A firebomb is a container that holds flammable or other combustible liquids or any chemical mixture or compound that could explode and has a wick or other device that could be set on fire or otherwise has some means of ignition. Also, under the statute, dispose of is defined as selling, transferring, giving away, loaning, or otherwise offering the device to another.

Chapter 806 of the Florida statutes also include the crime of criminal mischief. Section 806.13 punishes the act of criminal mischief when a person maliciously or willfully damages real or personal property that belongs to another person, including placing graffiti on the object or committing another act of vandalism. Damage to property that is less than $200 is a second-degree misdemeanor. However, damage to property valued at $200 but less than $1000 is a first-degree misdemeanor. If the damage is assessed at $1000 or more, or the damage interrupts are in pairs business operations, transportation, water supplies, gas, power, public services, or public communication, and such interruption cost more than $1000 in labor and supplies to fix, is a third-degree felony.

Willful damage to works of art in public places is also a crime under Florida law. Section 806.14 indicates that a criminal offense is committed when a person destroys defaces, injures, or mutilates a work of art on display in a public building. If the restoration costs less than $200, then the offense is a second-degree misdemeanor. If the restoration, including labor and supplies, or the replacement value of the art piece exceeds $200 but is less than $1000, then the crime is a first-degree misdemeanor. The crime becomes a third-degree misdemeanor when the value of replacement, labor, and supplies, or repairing the damage exceeds $1000 in costs.

The defense is to arson charges will depend on the nature of the allegations. In any criminal action, identification of the perpetrator is one of the primary defenses. Arguing misidentification because of a faulty photo ray, impermissible show up, or the witnesses did not have the opportunity to view the suspect clearly resulting in misidentification are all viable defenses. Additionally, any expert testimony that includes identification by scientific means such as DNA or fingerprints is always subject to scrutiny to be sure that the process used to identify the suspect was performed according to the scientific method and is reliable. Lastly, the accused could argue for a lesser sentence under a reduced charge depending on the individual’s prior criminal history and the facts of the case.

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