Can You Be Charged With Arson If Your Backyard Bonfire Rages Out of Control?

Posted on: 15 December 2016

Arson has been in the headlines lately, particularly with the recent revelation that the deadly and highly destructive wildfires in southeastern Tennessee were the alleged work of two teenagers. While wildfires can result from a number of innocent (or at least non-malicious) human causes, those who are alleged to have deliberately or recklessly started a fire that eventually led to property destruction or loss of life can be charged with felony arson, a serious crime carrying some hefty potential penalties. Could this standard extend even to fires you set in your own yard? Read on to learn more about the legal elements of the crime of arson and some potential defenses you may be able to raise if you're charged with arson after your own fire rages out of control.

What must be proven to convict a person of arson?

Although laws can vary somewhat from state to state, the elements of arson are fairly consistent. If a prosecutor can show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a criminal defendant knowingly or intentionally damaged a structure with the use of fire, an explosive, or a destructive device (like a homemade bomb), the defendant may be found guilty. Most states will impose much more severe penalties if this arson resulted in bodily injury or death. 

While these legal elements encompass cases of obvious arson, like firebombing, they are less clear when it comes to what could be deemed "reckless" arson – for example, throwing a lit cigarette out the window or allowing a backyard bonfire to roar uncontained until it begins to spread. In most situations, a defendant who has committed this type of arson will be found guilty of a lesser negligence charge that doesn't contain the same "knowing" and "intentional" requirements.

What are some potential defenses to an arson charge? 

If someone is being charged with arson, he or she may have a few potential defenses. First, he or she could establish that any damage to the structure at issue was not knowing or intentional, but simply accidental. Alternatively, he or she could admit that the initial damage (or attempt to damage) was knowing but that subsequent attempts were made to control the flame.

On the other hand, someone being charged with criminal negligence that led to a fire will need to establish that his or her behavior was reasonable under the circumstances – that is, that the behavior that led to the fire was what was expected of a reasonable person. Demonstrating any precautions taken prior to the fire or attempts to make the area safer can go a long way toward minimizing the risk of liability.

For more information about arson charges and assistance building your case, talk to a criminal defense attorney like those at The Fitzpatrick Law Firm.


Child Support Enforcement Secrets: What You Should Know

If your ex was ordered to pay child support as part of your divorce settlement, you have every reason to expect it to be paid on time. If he or she isn't meeting that obligation in a timely manner, you do have some enforcement options. Instead of struggling to get by or finding yourself fighting with your ex about getting the payments you're entitled to, you should reach out to a child support attorney who can help you take the case back to court. Your ex will have to show just cause for why he or she isn't paying or the courts will order them to catch up. I created this site to share what I've learned about child support enforcement over the years. I hope it helps you to understand your rights and the options available to you.

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