Arson, or deliberately setting property on fire, is a felony crime in Florida. Penalties for arson in Florida include imprisonment and fines. Arson charges are often the result of people committing acts of vandalism, trying to destroy evidence, carrying out hate crimes, or trying to collect insurance money. As such, many offenders who have been charged with arson also face additional charges and penalties.
If you have been charged with or are under investigation for arson in St. Petersburg, call Goldman Wetzel and talk to our defense team about your case: 727-828-3900. The initial consultation is free.
How does Florida law define arson?
Florida Statute § 806.01 states that “any person who willfully and unlawfully, or while in the commission of any felony, by fire or explosion, damages or causes [a structure] to be damaged” has committed arson.
A structure does not necessarily mean a house or occupied building. It can be “any building of any kind, any enclosed area with a roof over it, any real property and appurtenances thereto, any tent or other portable building, and any vehicle, vessel, watercraft, or aircraft.”
Depending on the circumstances, arson may be a first- or second-degree felony in Florida:
- First-degree arson: When someone sets fire to a dwelling or its contents, a structure where people normally are (e.g., jails, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, department stores, office buildings, business establishments, churches, or educational institutions) during normal business hours, or any other structure in which the person knew or had reasonable grounds to believe was occupied by a human being, it is a first-degree in felony.
- Second-degree arson: Whenever someone commits arson under any circumstance not included above, it is a second-degree felony, such as setting fire to garbage cans or an abandoned barn.
What are the penalties for arson?
Arson is a violent crime in Florida and is vigorously prosecuted by law enforcement. If you are charged with first-degree arson, you face up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, plus restitution for the destroyed property. In many cases, our attorneys can try to negotiate with the prosecutor and reduce your charges. If you are charged with second- rather than first-degree arson, then your possible imprisonment is cut in half. The fine amount remains the same.
If this is not your first offense or if you have other charges pending as well, the potential penalties will be higher. For example, if you light your car or house on fire to destroy evidence of another crime you committed, you can face charges for both crimes.
You will also face elevated penalties if you committed arson as part of a hate crime. Per Florida Statute § 775.085, a hate crime component elevates a crime one degree. The state will reclassify a second-degree felony arson charge as a first-degree felony and a first-degree felony as a life felony. If you lit someone’s house on fire as part of a hate crime, you could face life felony charges.
What are some possible defenses to arson charges?
The way we approach your case depends upon the circumstances. For instance, we may:
- Try to get evidence thrown out that officers obtained through unlawful search and seizure;
- Break down the prosecutor’s case if there is no evidence of destruction;
- Prove your alibi and that you did not commit the crime; or
- Show that the fire was accidental and that you did not willingly start it, e.g., you forgot to put out your cigarette
- Show that you had the authority to start the fire, e.g., a permit for clearing land.
The first step is to talk to our defense team about your case. We will investigate the facts of the case, gather supportive evidence, and determine what type of defense would be best to use.
Get a FREE Consult with Our Arson Defense Lawyers in St. Petersburg
Our defense lawyers in St. Petersburg have a diverse portfolio of cases. We represent defendants with all types of criminal cases, including white collar crimes like insurance fraud, misdemeanor crimes, criminal mischief, and arson.
Our attorneys work together on each case we handle, making sure we consider every aspect of a case and that we protect our clients’ rights throughout the duration of the case. We always push for the best possible outcome, be it dropped charges, a plea bargain, reduced penalties, or an acquittal.
For a free consultation with our criminal defense team in St. Petersburg, call Goldman Wetzel at 727-828-3900.