Arson is defined as intentionally burning a structure, house, or other building. Previously, arson meant just the burning of a house, but now the law covers any structure. A death resulting from arson is considered murder. Arson can also be defined as the burning or exploding of commercial and public buildings and structures. Burning an insured structure or building with the intent to defraud the insurer also constitutes arson.

In order to prove arson, there must be evidence of a fire or burning as well as evidence that a criminal act caused the fire. In addition to the evidence above, there must be evidence that the fire caused the structure, building, or property to burn. The conduct must be malicious, and not accidental. Evidence of motive is not required to prove arson.

Under California Penal Code Section 451, “A person is guilty of arson when he or she willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned or who aids counsels, or procures the burning of, any structure, forest land, or property.”

Arson is a crime punishable in a variety of ways based on the circumstances.

  • Arson resulting in an injury is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for five, seven, or nine years.
  • Arson that causes an occupied building or structure to burn is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for three, five, or eight years.
  • Arson of a structure or forest land is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years.
  • Arson of property is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two, or three years. Arson of property does not include one burning or causing to be burned his or her own personal property unless there is an intent to defraud or there is injury to another person or another person's structure, forest land, or property.

The different degrees of arson depend on:

  1. The value of the property
  2. A property's use
  3. The time of day the fire occurred


  1. Accident: In order to be found guilty of arson, there must be evidence proving that the action was malicious or reckless. Without such evidence, it is possible to assume that the fire is an unintended and non-criminal act.
  2. Insufficient Evidence: In many arson cases there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence, or evidence that provides a basis to reaching a conclusion about a fact, which may be disproved. Unless direct evidence is presented, the prosecutor will have difficulty convicting a person of arson.

If you have been arrested for arson, this is a very serious crime. You will need the best attorney you can find. Give us a call for a free review of your case.