In the realm of criminal offenses, arson stands out as a particularly menacing act as it involves deliberately setting fire to a specific location or property. The motivations for such behavior can vary, including malice toward the property owner or perverse financial incentives. Beyond the immediate danger it poses to public safety, arson is a serious violation of the law that can carry severe consequences. 

In Florida, the legal system takes a stern stance against arsonists, imposing stringent penalties to deter such dangerous behavior. Those accused of arson find themselves confronted with the daunting prospect of navigating the state's legal landscape. For anyone entangled in the complexities of arson charges in Florida, it is vital to seek professional legal counsel. 

This page will delve into the legal nuances surrounding arson offenses in the state and emphasize the importance of hiring a skilled defense attorney. 

Defining Arson

Arson is a serious form of property crime in Florida. An individual can face an arson charge if they are accused of intentionally damaging the property of another by fire or explosion. 

Florida Statute Section 806.01 defines arson as the offense a person commits when they willingly set fire or an explosion that causes damage to: 

  • Any dwelling, whether it is occupied or not, or its contents; 
  • Any structure where people are normally present; or 
  • Any other structure that the defendant knew or had reasonable grounds to believe was occupied by a human. 

It’s important to establish the difference between a structure and a dwelling. Florida Statute Section 810.011 defines a structure as any kind of building that has a roof over it, whether temporary or not. Structures where people are normally present can include any of the following: 

  • Jails or prisons;
  • Hospitals;
  • Department stores;
  • Nursing homes;
  • Office buildings;
  • Business establishments;
  • Places of worship;
  • Educational institutions during normal hours of occupancy; or
  • Any similar structure. 

The same statute defines a dwelling as a building or conveyance that has a roof over it and is designed to be occupied by people who lodge there at night. 

Under Florida Statute Section 806.01(2), a person can also face an arson charge for damaging a structure or dwelling by fire or explosion while in the commission of a felony. This means that even an accidental fire or explosion can be considered an act of arson if the defendant caused it while committing an unrelated crime.

Penalties for an Arson Charge

The penalties a defendant accused of arson can face will depend on the property that was allegedly set on fire. 

  • First-Degree Arson – A defendant accused of setting fire or an explosion to a structure or dwelling can be charged with arson as a first-degree felony. A conviction for a first-degree felony carries the following penalties: 
    • Up to $10,000 in fines; and
    • Up to 30 years in prison.
  • Second-Degree Arson – A defendant accused of setting fire or an explosion while in the commission of a felony offense can be charged with a second-degree felony. A conviction for a second-degree felony carries the following penalties: 
    • Up to $10,000 in fines; and
    • Up to 15 years in prison. 

Arson Resulting in Injury 

If the arson offense results in the injury of another person, the defendant may face an additional charge. It is important to note that these additional charges carry separate penalties and do not replace the penalties of an arson conviction.

Florida Statute Section 806.031(1) explains that any person who commits an arson offense that results in any bodily harm to a firefighter or other person can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. This is regardless of whether the defendant intended to cause such harm. A conviction for a first-degree misdemeanor carries the following penalties:

  • Up to $1,000 in fines; and 
  • Up to one year in jail. 

Florida Statute Section 806.031(2) explains that any person who commits an arson offense that results in great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to a firefighter or other person can be charged with a second-degree felony. As before, a charge of arson resulting in great bodily harm does not require proof that the defendant intended to cause such harm.

Important: A defendant can be convicted for arson resulting in bodily harm or great bodily harm even if they do not receive a felony conviction for the arson charge itself. 

Defenses to an Arson Charge

An individual who has been arrested for an alleged arson offense may feel as if there is no way out of the legal penalties. However, there are still certain defenses that may be applicable to fight the charges. 

Defending against an arson charge requires a strategic approach, and the potential defenses may vary based on the specific circumstances of each case. By working with an experienced defense attorney, you can determine if any of the following defenses can be used in your case: 

  • Lack of intent – For a person to be convicted of arson, the State must prove they damaged property by fire or an explosion intentionally. If the defendant lacked the intent to start a fire or set off an explosion, they may be able to challenge the charge against them. An individual who merely started a fire by accident or negligence can have their defense attorney challenge the element of intentionality in the case.
  • Causality – To secure an arson conviction, the State must also prove that the defendant was the cause of the fire or explosion that damaged a structure or dwelling. A defense attorney may be able to argue that a defendant’s behavior was not the cause of the fire or explosion at the heart of the case.
  • Insufficient evidence – A defense attorney may be able to challenge the evidence presented by the prosecution, such as the reliability of witnesses, the accuracy of forensic evidence, or the investigation process.
  • Mistaken identity – In an arson case where witness identification plays a role, or if the act was caught on surveillance, the defense can argue that the defendant was misidentified as the person responsible for the arson and resulting damages. 

While each case will differ in its specific details and circumstances, it is highly advisable to consult with a South Florida defense attorney about which defenses are applicable to your case. 

Contact a South Florida Arson Defense Attorney 

If you find yourself facing criminal charges for arson in Florida, it is imperative that you are familiar with all the legal penalties that may result from a conviction. The legal process can be confusing and nuanced, especially when you are facing felony charges. This is where an experienced Palm Beach defense lawyer can help. The defense team at Ian Goldstein Law can review your case details and help provide defense strategies to get the charges reduced or dismissed. If the case heads to trial, then we will stand by your side and fight to win your case. To receive a free consultation, contact our office at (561) 600-0950 today.