Arson is the malicious and willful charring or burning of a structure or property. California makes it a felony to willfully and maliciously burn or set fire to any property, including forest land and structures.

The crime requires the intent to commit arson, property damage, and recklessness. California arson laws differ depending on facts in the case, such as the extent of the property damage.

Can I Be Charged with Arson If I Didn’t Intend to Start the Fire?

Yes. California has another arson law that allows someone who didn’t intentionally set the fire to still be charged with arson. The state must prove recklessness. Recklessness is defined as taking substantial and unjustifiable risk with the knowledge that their action could cause a fire to property.

Does It Matter If The Fire Didn’t Completely Burn the Property?

No. The state makes it unlawful to cause a fire no matter how slight the damage to the property.

Is Arson a Misdemeanor or Felony?

An arson charge is considered a wobbler in California. A wobbler is a charge that can be prosecuted as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the crime. It’s a misdemeanor when the damage from the arson is relatively minor. 

Penalties can range from fines to the death penalty. The death penalty is generally given for an arson crime involving a homicide.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer When Charged with Arson in California?

Yes. Arson is an extremely serious criminal act. To understand more about possible defenses and the type of charge you face, consult a criminal lawyer.