Individuals accused of maliciously setting fires or causing explosions can be charged with arson. Under New York state law there are five degrees of arson charges, depending on the severity of the circumstances. In New York City, Fire Marshals with the Fire Department of New York investigate and make arrests in arson cases.
- When is the best time to act?:
Anyone charged with arson should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away, as many District Attorney offices have prosecutors who specialize in arson cases and a conviction can result in years of prison time.
- State Penalties for Arson:
Arson in the Fifth Degree is a Class A Misdemeanor, and applies when someone intentionally sets a fire or causes an explosion to damage someone else’s property. It is punishable by up to 1 year in jail. Arson in the Fourth Degree is a Class E Felony. Anyone who recklessly damages a motor vehicle or building by setting a fire or causing an explosion can be charged with this crime, which may result in 1 to 4 years in jail. Arson in the Third Degree is a Class C Felony that can be charged when someone intentionally damages a motor vehicle or building by starting a fire or explosion. The minimum penalty is 1-3 years jail, and the maximum punishment is 5-15 years in jail. Arson in the Second Degree is a Class B violent felony with a minimum punishment of 5 years in jail and maximum punishment of 25 years. Arson in the Second Degree applies to the following combination of circumstances: ● Someone intentionally damages a building or motor vehicle by setting a fire while another person was inside the building or vehicle ● The perpetrator knew there was a possibility that someone could be in the building or vehicle Arson in the First Degree is a Class A-1 felony and the most severe arson charge. Anyone convicted of this crime can be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Arson in the First Degree applies if someone intentionally damages a building or motor vehicle for financial gain by causing a fire or explosion that seriously injures another person while knowing that someone could be in the building or vehicle.
- Related Crimes:
Conspiracy, Criminal Possession of a Weapon, Manslaughter, Attempted Murder, Murder
- Difference between New York State and Federal statutes:
18 U.S.C. Section 844(i), the federal arson statute, makes arson or attempted arson a federal crime if interstate or foreign commerce are affected. A conviction carries a minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum of 20 years. If any person is injured in the act of arson or attempted arson, the minimum sentence is 7 years in prison and maximum is 40 years. If the arson results in the death of another person the accused may be sentenced to life in prison, or even be subject to the death penalty.
- Successful Defenses:
Destruction of one’s own property or destruction of property with the owner’s consent, proof that there was no financial interest invested in the destruction, proof that the fire or explosion was caused unintentionally, lack of proof that a fire was incendiary, and mental disease / defect are acceptable defenses.
- High profile/government cases:
On December 4, 2013, the Manhattan District Attorney announced the sentencing of Christopher Buxo, 59, to nine years in state prison and five years of post-release supervision for setting four cars and an apartment lobby on the Upper West Side on fire in February 2009. On October 23, 2013, Buxo pleaded guilty in New York State Supreme Court to Arson in the Second Degree, and one count each of Arson in the Third Degree and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree.