Known legally as “Burning or destroying dwelling house, etc.,” arson-related criminal charges can be a very scary experience. Depending on whether or not the building or structure was occupied, this could be a criminal charge that can carry up to life in prison. If you have been charged with arson, it requires the help of an experienced arson attorney right away. Even if the building was not occupied, this charge is still a Class 4 felony which can result in 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. If a person was in the building and they died as a result of the fire, the person will also be charged with murder.
A person who is convicted of arson will likely be the subject of a civil lawsuit against the building owner and anyone who suffered a loss due to arson. This can result in serious damages being leveled against you which can result in you losing all assets and bankrupt you and your family. While a not guilty verdict will not guarantee that a civil charge will also fail (the bar for a civil trial is lower than a criminal trial), being convicted in a criminal trial can be used as evidence in your civil trial.
Perhaps the most important element to arson is showing intent. For a person to be convicted of arson, the state must prove that the person maliciously set the fire. If that intent cannot clearly be shown, the jury is instructed to return a not guilty verdict. Because proving this intent often relies on fire experts and other forensic testimony, it is important to hire an attorney who has the means to retain experts who can testify on your behalf. A person could also be charged with arson if they are found to be grossly negligent, but more often than not the state will want to bring charges against a person when they have evidence that the fire was maliciously set.
This testimony will have a lot of scientific elements including the presence of accelerants, the burn patterns that show where the fire started, and showing exactly how hot the fire got. These are just some of the scientific elements that the state will look at when proving intent so it is clear than a skilled defense attorney will need to understand these scientific terms in order to properly rebut them.
If you maliciously burn any structure in Virginia or maliciously set fire to woods, fences, grass, straw or anything else capable of spreading fire on land, you may be facing arson charges. Maliciously setting a fire to anything will be punished, even if it is abandoned property. Our attorneys can help you get through these tough charges and work to secure your freedom.
If you are facing arson charges, contact us at The Law Offices of Patrick N. Anderson and Associates. Our experienced team of attorneys has successfully represented criminal cases for 30 years. A good defense team may make a difference in the ultimate charges and/or punishments associated with the crime if you are convicted.