In terms of both financial and human losses, arson may be the most devastating property crime in Arizona. So, Maricopa County prosecutors are particularly aggressive in many situations, particularly if the losses or potential losses were high and the defendant displayed any malice or extreme selfishness (e.g. burning a business to collect insurance money).
Industrial and commercial arson economic losses total about $133,000 per incident. That’s much higher than other types of property crime losses, such as vandalism or even theft. Additionally, arson causes about a third of the fatal fires in the United States. That’s a substantial loss of life which can only be compared to mass shootings or even terrorist attacks.
Because of these losses, Maricopa County prosecutors do not offer pretrial diversion in these cases very often, at least not at first. That’s usually true even if the economic and/or human losses were minimal. Prosecutors will most likely say that the defendant could have caused much more damage. Many times, especially if the evidence is rather weak, prosecutors will eventually offer pretrial diversion, or at least reduced charges.
These options are usually only available if the defendant works with Sanctuary Bail Bonds (Phoenix bail bonds) to quickly get out of jail throughout the state of Arizona, before the trial. Defendants who choose to plead to jail time just to “get it over with” without using the bail bond services of Sanctuary Bail Bonds will often face shocking and debilitating aftereffects due to their criminal history record.
What is Arson: Reckless Burning
To encourage plea bargains, many prosecutors agree to reduce more serious arson charges to the lowest level arson charges in Arizona. However, these cases are still quite serious. Reckless burning is a Class 1 misdemeanor (maximum six months in jail or three years’ probation and a $2,500 fine). Authorities press this type of arson charge if the defendant:
- Unintentionally causes an explosion or fire
- Which damages any structure or property.
Let’s look at these elements of arson one at a time.
In this context, unintentionally basically means accidentally. Examples include discarding a smoldering cigarette butt, failing to completely douse a campfire, or improperly using fireworks. Any higher degree of misconduct, such as discarding several live butts, is probably reckless as opposed to unintentional. More on that below.
Furthermore, the fire must damage the structure or property. Any damage, including a charred spot on the floor, will suffice. Because of this low standard, fire department intervention usually does not come into play here. More on that below as well.
It is also a Class 1 misdemeanor to burn a cross on public property or on another person’s private property, unless the owner consented. Additionally, in this type of arson, the defendant must have the intent to intimidate a group or person. Significantly, the state must introduce additional evidence in this area, such as hateful social media posts.
Normally, consent is an affirmative and voluntary act. Assume Frank asks Sarah if he can burn a cross on her rural property. Unless she explicitly says “Yes, that’s fine,” she has not consented. She may have “assented” (def: to be in agreement with), but that is different. Moreover, Sarah did not give informed consent if Frank said he wanted to hold a rally there, but he did not mention cross burning.
The statute is rather clear that only people who “burn or cause to be burned” crosses are criminally liable. Mere presence at a rally or other event is insufficient. Moreover, buying the materials is probably insufficient as well, even if the defendant knew the purpose of the fuel or matches.
What is Arson: Causing a Wildfire
This type of arson is tricky as well, largely because the law is incredibly complex. State of mind is highly relevant in this area. According to the statute, culpability breaks down as follows:
- Negligent burning: Class 2 misdemeanor (four months in jail or two years probation and/or a $750 fine),
- Reckless burning: Class 1 misdemeanor,
- Intentional burning: Class 6 felony (one to two years in prison), and
- Any wildfire which places a person or structure in danger of damage: Class 3 felony (three to eight years in prison).
“Reckless” is a standard between negligent and intentional. Frank Drebin did not intentionally destroy Vincent Ludwig’s office (The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!), but he did not accidentally destroy it either.
In some states, a legal concept known as foreseeability comes into play here. Very few people intentionally or recklessly start wildfires. But Arizona law restricts burning activities on open lands to certain activities, such as agricultural burnings on private property and authorized campfires in parks. Any other activity could be charged as causing a wildfire.
Also, note that actual structural damage or personal injury is not required. Causing any risk is to the forest, its wildlife, campers, or property is sufficient to press charges. That’s a rather subjective standard so it is best to err on the side of caution and bring a bucket of sand to properly put out any smoldering embers from your campfire.
Property and Structural Arson
In this context, “property” is anything that has a tangible or intangible value. A “structure” is a vehicle or an object with sides and a floor. The range of punishment usually depends on the value of the structure or property:
- Under $100: Class 1 misdemeanor,
- $100 to $1,000: Class 5 felony (two years in prison), and
- $1,000 and above: Class 4 felony (two to three years in prison).
Different penalties apply if the structure was occupied or unoccupied, or if the structure was an occupied prison or jail.
If the fire department arrives on the scene and contains the damage or the people in the structure grab their valuables and run, the measure of damages in criminal court is usually how much the fire would have caused if it continued burning. In civil court, victims have a duty to mitigate or lessen their damages by calling the fire department or putting out the fire themselves.
Arson and Fraud
Sometimes, prosecutors file separate fraud charges, normally insurance fraud charges, in arson cases. When policyholders submit claims, they normally must state that they had nothing to do with the property or other damage.
Since the elements of fraud (making a false statement of material fact with the intent to profit financially) are different from the elements of arson (burning something), judges usually allow these separate prosecutions.
In Arizona, amount is irrelevant to punishment in fraud cases. Any material misstatement is a Class 2 felony (three to twelve years in prison and/or a $150,000 fine). The penalty for a subsequent offense is even higher. If you have a fascination with fire, flames or pyromantics, it might be best to try to find a hobby that you can more safely enjoy like firewalking, flame throwing, or be a Mardi Gras Flambeaux.
To help ensure a positive result in an arson or fraud case by securing your pretrial release on bail, contact Sanctuary Bail Bonds (Phoenix bail bonds). Our fast, friendly and professional services won the 2018 Phoenix Award in Bail Bonds Services and our bail bond agents are available 24/7 every day of the year at (602) BAIL-247 or (602) 224-5247. We provide free bail bond consultation and fast and friendly bail bonding services. Our professional bond agents are on YOUR SIDE! To learn more about bail bonds visit our FAQ-page.
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