Arson is willfully and maliciously setting fire to or burning or causing to be burned or aiding, counseling, or procuring the burning of, any structure, forest land, or property.

Is Arson a felony or misdemeanor?

Arson is deemed an inherently dangerous felony, not a misdemeanor. The reasoning is that structures, forests, and properties tend to contain humans or animals which could be seriously injured or killed from a fire.

What does it mean to be convicted of the crime of Arson?

It means the following:

      • You must register as an arsonist.
      • It may have immigration consequences as it is a dangerous or aggravated felony.
      • It is a strike offense.
      • Ineligible for voting, jury service, firearms, and public service.
      • Must give a DNA sample.
      • Prison time as described per each section below (bottom of the page – 16 months to 9 or more years).

What is needed to prove I committed arson or that I burned something? 

The district attorney will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

      • You are willful and malicious.
      • Set fire to or cause to be burned, or…
      • Aided, counseled, or procured burning material.
      • Any structure, forest land, or property (can include clothing or trash can).

What does willfully burn to mean?

Willfully mean you intentionally did something. You knowingly and intentionally did the act of setting fire to or causing something to be burned. It means it was not an accident or someone did not force you to do it. Burning means charring, not just smoke damage.

What does maliciously burn or set fire mean?

Maliciousness has to do with a state of mind and the intention or desire to do evil to cause harm. Maliciously burning would be the opposite of setting fire to wood for a barbecue. Malicious burning means wanting to burn something to cause harm or destruction. Examples of burning would be:

      • Throwing a lit cigarette into a forest to burn a neighbor’s land.
      • Setting fire to a garage to cause insurance fraud.
      • Setting fire to a house to get even with an ex.
      • Burning a logging company’s business to protest against logging.

What are the defenses to PC 451, Arson?

      • You did not burn anything; it was not you.
      • You did not intend to defraud.
      • You were not burning or setting fire to something maliciously.
      • You were not acting willfully.
      • You did not aid or counsel anyone or procure to have a property, structure, or forest burned.

California defines Arson as: “451A 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.”

What is the punishment for Arson, Penal Code 451?

(a) Arson that causes great bodily injury is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for five, seven, or nine years.

(b) Arson that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for three, five, or eight years.

(c) Arson of a structure or forest land is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years.

(d) Arson of property is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two, or three years. For purposes of this paragraph, 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 an injury to another person or another person’s structure, forest land, or property.

(e) In the case of any person convicted of violating this section while confined in state prison, prison road camp, prison forestry camp, or other prison camp or prison farm, or while confined in a county jail while serving a term of imprisonment for a felony or misdemeanor conviction, any sentence imposed shall be consecutive to the sentence for which the person was then confined.

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