Arson Charges and Penalties in Georgia
Arson Charges and Penalties in Georgia
Arson is a very serious crime in Georgia that comes with severe penalties. There are three degrees of arson charges in Georgia – first, second, and third degree – with first degree being the most serious. I wanted to write this article to help explain Georgia’s arson laws and what the penalties are if convicted.
What is Arson in Georgia?
Arson is basically intentionally and illegally setting fire to or damaging someone else’s property. Georgia law defines arson as “knowingly damaging property by fire or explosive without consent.”
There are 3 degrees of arson charges:
- First Degree Arson – Damaging any dwelling, building, vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, or railroad car by fire or explosive without consent. This is a felony punishable by 1-20 years in prison and fines up to $50,000.
- Second Degree Arson – Damaging any building, vehicle, aircraft, watercraft or other structure not covered under first degree arson by fire or explosive without consent. This is a felony punishable by 1-10 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.
- Third Degree Arson – Intentionally starting a fire to woods, lands, fences, grass, grain, etc. without consent. This is a misdemeanor.
The main things prosecutors have to prove for an arson conviction are:
- The fire or damage was intentionally set
- The property belonged to someone else
- The defendant did not have consent to damage the property
Penalties for Arson in Georgia
Arson is always prosecuted as a felony in Georgia, except for third degree arson which is a misdemeanor. The penalties get more severe with first degree arson.
First Degree Arson
First degree arson is the most serious arson charge in GA. It covers setting fire to any dwelling, building, vehicle, aircraft, watercraft or railroad car without consent.
If convicted of first degree arson, the penalties are:
- Prison Time: Minimum of 1 year, up to 20 years in prison
- Fines: Up to $50,000
- Felony Conviction: Lifelong criminal record, loss of rights like voting, and barriers to jobs, housing, loans etc.
Second Degree Arson
Second degree arson in Georgia covers setting fire to any building, vehicle, aircraft, watercraft or structure without consent that doesn’t fall under first degree arson.
If convicted of second degree arson, the penalties are:
- Prison Time: Minimum of 1 year, up to 10 years in prison
- Fines: Up to $25,000
- Felony Conviction: Lifelong criminal record, loss of rights, barriers to jobs, housing, loans, etc.
Third Degree Arson
Third degree arson is a misdemeanor charge in Georgia that covers intentionally setting fires to things like fences, woods, grass, grain etc. without the owner’s consent.
If convicted of third degree arson, the penalties are:
- Prison Time: Up to 12 months in jail
- Fines: Up to $1,000
- Misdemeanor Conviction: Criminal record, but not as severe barriers as felony conviction
Defenses to Arson Charges
There are a few potential defenses in Georgia arson cases:
- You had consent – If the owner consented to burning the property, there is no crime. However, consent from both property owner and insurer is required.
- The fire was an accident – If there is evidence the fire started accidentally, this can show lack of intent.
- You did not use fire or explosives – First and second degree arson specifically require fire or explosives be used. Other types of property damage may lead to lesser charges.
- Someone else committed the arson – If evidence points to a different person setting the fire, you may be able to avoid conviction.
What Happens if You’re Charged with Arson
Being charged with any degree of arson in Georgia is very serious. Here’s a quick overview of what happens if you’re arrested for arson:
- You’ll be arrested, booked, and held in jail pending a bond hearing
- Prosecutors will file formal arson charges against you after reviewing police reports
- You’ll go before a judge who will set terms of bail/bond to get released from jail
- Hire a criminal defense attorney immediately to start building your defense
- Your attorney will analyze the prosecutor’s evidence and start investigating the case
- You’ll enter a plea at your arraignment – not guilty is recommended to keep all options open
- Your lawyer will negotiate with the prosecutor and try to get charges reduced or dismissed
- If charges aren’t dropped, your case will go to trial
- Your attorney will vigorously defend you at trial and hold prosecutors to their burden of proof
Don’t try to navigate arson charges alone. These cases are complex and the penalties are extremely high. An experienced criminal defense attorney can protect your rights, build the strongest defense for your case, and try to avoid a felony conviction.
Finding an Arson Defense Attorney in Georgia
If you or a loved one is facing arson charges, it’s critical to act fast and find an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Look for attorneys with a proven track record of defending arson cases in Georgia. Be sure to ask about their specific experience fighting arson charges, their strategy for building a defense, and any past success getting arson charges reduced or dismissed.
Don’t leave your freedom in the hands of just anyone – make sure you feel confident and comfortable with the lawyer you choose. Schedule consultations with a few top attorneys to find the best fit. Arson charges shouldn’t be taken lightly. The right defense lawyer can make all the difference.
I hope this article helped explain the arson laws and penalties in Georgia. Arson is extremely serious and can result in felony convictions and years in prison if not properly defended against. Don’t wait to seek legal help if you or someone you love is facing arson allegations. An experienced criminal defense attorney can protect your rights and give you the strongest chance at beating the charges. Let me know if you have any other questions!