Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog
     


Crime of Arson: California Penal Code Section 451(a),(b),(c),(d),(e)

Posted on: November 20, 2008 at 11:20 a.m.

Criminal defense of arson charges in Southern California courts revolves around (1) questioning the identity of the suspect - how is he linked to the fire (2) establishing intent - was the fire started intentionally or accidentally and (3) reviewing the other legal elements required for prosecution pursuant to Penal Code Section 451.

The wildfire that began in the Santa Barbara area earlier this month was apparently an act of accidental arson. The fire that destroyed scores of homes in Montecito and Santa Barbara was caused by a group of young people who had built a bonfire.
A group of 10 young men and women described by authorities as locals went to the Tea house, an abandoned mansion, for a bonfire party. They told Santa Barbara County sheriff's investigators that they had put the fire out before they left that night. But authorities believe the fire continued to smolder before breaking out into fire when winds swept in Thursday afternoon. Last year, officials arrested several people who allegedly started a bonfire in some caves above Corral Canyon in Malibu, where flames burned dozens of homes.
Arson is a serious matter, especially in Los Angeles where the yearly fires cost millions of dollars in damage, as well as the lives of some home owners. Arson is a serious crime, and the laws hand down stiff penalties to individuals who commit the crime, whether purposefully or accidentally. Criminal defense attorneys who defend arson cases often have to dig through piles of facts, research and so forth to find out exactly what the prosecution will portray as the truth.
Under the criminal law of most states, arson is committed when a person intentionally burns almost any kind of structure or building, not just a house or business. Many states recognize differing degrees of arson, based on such factors as whether the building was occupied and whether insurance fraud was intended.
To enforce state fire and forest laws, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's 300 plus officers are busy year round investigating fire causes, interviewing witnesses, issuing citations and setting up surveillance operations. Additionally, law enforcement staff provides assistance when requested by local fire and law enforcement agencies in arson, bomb, fireworks, and fire extinguisher investigations, as well as disposal of explosives. Office of the State Fire Marshal Arson and Bomb Specialists provide fire and bomb investigation services to state-owned facilities, and provide assistance to local government fire and law agencies. The Department's investigators have a very successful conviction rate.
Criminal defense attorneys who defend those accused of arson understand that the laws governing arson are strict and harsh. According to California Penal Code 451.5. (a) Any person who willfully, maliciously, deliberately, with premeditation, and with intent to cause injury to one or more persons or to cause damage to property under circumstances likely to produce injury to one or more persons or to cause damage to one or more structures or inhabited dwellings, sets fire to, burns, or causes to be burned, or aids, counsels, or procures the burning of any residence, structure, forest land, or property is guilty of aggravated arson if one or more of the following aggravating factors exists:
(1) The defendant has been previously convicted of arson on one or more occasions within the past 10 years.
(3) The fire caused damage to, or the destruction of, five or more inhabited structures. (b) Any person who is convicted under subdivision (a) shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for 10 years to life. (c) Any person who is sentenced under subdivision (b) shall not be eligible for release on parole until 10 calendar years have elapsed.

Tagged as: arson pc 451, california criminal laws









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