Under Florida Statutes § 806.01, arson occurs when any person willfully causes a fire or explosion that damages property, structures, dwellings, or people. A “structure” for arson purposes means “any building of any kind, any enclosed area with a roof over it, any real property and appurtenances to it, any tent or other portable building, and any vehicle, vessel, watercraft, or aircraft.”

Arson is classified by two distinct degrees. There is first- and second-degree arson. Each results in different criminal liability and penalties.

Florida Arson Attorney

Arson is an incredibly serious offense under Florida law. A conviction can result in significant fines and imprisonment. If you have been accused of arson, contact Galigani Law Firm. Florida criminal defense attorney Dean Galigani at Galigani Law Firm can utilize his vast experience with arson cases to build a persuasive defense on your behalf.

Galigani Law Firm serves clients in Florida, including Alachua County, Marion County, Levy County, Columbia County and Gilchrist County. Call (352) 375-0812 now to arrange a free consultation today.

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First-Degree Arson

First-degree arson occurs when:

  • A person willfully and unlawfully, or during the commission of a crime;
  • By fire or explosion;
  • Causes damage to any of the following:
    • Any dwelling or its contents, whether occupied or not;
    • Any structure or its contents where people are normally present; or
    • Any structure the offender knew or had reason to believe was occupied by a human being.

Arson in the first degree is punished as a first-degree felony. A first-degree felony can carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

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Second-Degree Arson

Second-degree arson is characterized by the same elements as first-degree arson, but the accused must have believed there were no occupants in the building. Additionally, second-degree arson requires that the building was not a dwelling or structure usually occupied by people when the fire was willfully set. If the defendant knew or had reason to believe the structure was occupied by a person, then they will be charged with first-degree arson.

For example, if an individual intentionally set fire to a car and could see no one occupied the vehicle, they would be charged with second-degree arson. Second-degree arson is a second-degree felony, punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

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Arson Resulting In Injury To Another

If the committed arson results in injury to any other person, including firefighters, a defendant can be charged separately with another crime under Florida Statutes § 806.031. Harming any person due to the intentional commission of arson will result in a first-degree misdemeanor, which can carry a maximum jail sentence of one year and a fine of up to $1,000.

Separately, if a person is seriously injured, permanently disfigured, or permanently disabled due to the commission of arson, then the defendant can also be charged with a second-degree felony, punishable by a 15-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $10,000.

Both of these charges can be added to the arson charges, meaning a defendant can face criminal penalties for both charges. Incarceration time will likely be served consecutively rather than concurrently for these charges, which means the sentences will be added to the time rather than serving time for both simultaneously. It is worth noting that it does not matter if the defendant did or did not intend to harm someone as a result of the arson in question.

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Defenses To Arson

First and foremost, the defendant must have willfully or intentionally set a fire. If the defendant can prove that they did not intend to set a fire, there can likely be no conviction for arson. Evidence showing that the fire was set unintentionally can help a defendant in their case. However, if the fire was set during the commission of another felony, then the requisite intent will likely be dropped. Unintentionally setting a fire during the commission of another felony can result in arson charges.

The most straightforward way to illustrate that a fire or explosion was unintentional involves employing the use of an expert witness during the trial. Fires create many questions as to the actual origin of the inferno because most or all of the evidence is destroyed or contaminated due to the destructive nature of the fire itself. Utilizing an expert witness or skilled arson defense attorney to show that the fire was caused by accident or something else can help save a defendant from a wrongful conviction.

Additionally, defendants who have the authority to start the fire cannot be found guilty of arson. This comes from the law defining the commission of arson as done by a person who “willfully and unlawfully” causes damage by fire. For example, if the defendant had the authority to start the fire to clear their land, they could not be guilty of arson. Similarly, firefighters who start controlled fires to prevent the spread of larger fires likely cannot be found guilty of arson, as they have legal permission to start the fire for such a purpose.

Another defense against arson can be the defense of impossibility. If the defense can show that the defendant was elsewhere or had an alibi for when the fire started, then the defendant could not have intentionally started the fire, as required for conviction.

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Crimes Related To Arson

Under Florida law, some offenses are interconnected with arson or are often charged along with the arson itself. The following crimes fall under the same chapter of Florida’s arson law:

  • Preventing or obstructing the extinguishment of a fire ( 806.10)
  • Creating a false alarm of a fire ( 806.101)
  • Possessing, manufacturing, or disposal of a fire bomb ( 806.111)

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Statute Of Limitations For Arson

A statute of limitations is a legal provision that bars the State from charging a defendant with criminal liability after a certain period after the commission (or discovery of the commission) of the crime. In sum, if the time prescribed by law passes and charges aren’t brought, then the State will be prevented from prosecuting the defendant with the untimely charges.

Arson is charged as two different severities of crime, a first-degree felony, and a second-degree felony. A charge for first-degree arson will become untimely after four years. A charge for second-degree arson will become untimely after three years. Once again, if the charges are untimely, then the defendant likely cannot be prosecuted. For more information on when the statute of limitations may begin running, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced defense attorney.

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Additional Resources

Forestry Arson Alert Association in Florida | Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – This resource provides helpful insight and information about assisting with wildfire prevention and joining the Arson Alert Association. This resource also provides information regarding rewards for identifying arson.

Chapter 806: Arson and Criminal Mischief | Online Sunshine: The 2022 Florida Statutes – This resource is a direct link to the chapter of Florida law that governs arson and related offenses, including criminal mischief.

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Gainesville Arson Attorney | Alachua County, FL

Since the stakes are so high for arson defendants, it is vital for those who have been charged with arson to seek the advice of an arson lawyer. If you have been accused of arson, reach out to Galigani Law Firm. With years of experience under his belt, attorney Dean Galigani can assist you by building a formidable defense tailor made to fight your charges.

Call the Galigani Law Firm today for a free consultation with a Gainesville sex crime attorney at (352) 375-0812. Attorney Galigani and his legal team accept clients throughout the greater Alachua County area including Gainesville, High Springs, Alachua, Archer, and Waldo.

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