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Arson Laws and Penalties in Florida Explained

Arson Laws and Penalties in Florida Explained

Arson is a serious crime in Florida that involves the willful and unlawful setting of a fire. Understanding the specific laws, penalties, and defenses for arson is crucial for anyone facing such charges in Florida. This article provides a comprehensive overview of key things to know.

What is Arson Under Florida Law?

Florida statute 806.01(1) defines arson as:

When a person willfully and unlawfully, or while in the commission of any felony, by fire or explosion, damages or causes to be damaged any structure, whether the property of himself or herself or another, under any circumstances not referred to in subsection (2).

This means that intentionally and illegally setting any type of fire or causing an explosion that damages a structure constitutes arson under Florida law.

Some key points about the definition of arson in Florida:

  • The fire or explosion must be willful and unlawful. If it was an accident, it is not arson.
  • The target can be any type of structure, including houses, businesses, vehicles, boats, etc.
  • The structure can belong to the perpetrator or someone else.
  • Causing fire or explosion damage during the commission of any felony crime also qualifies as arson.

Degrees of Arson

Florida categorizes arson into several degrees depending on circumstances:

First Degree Arson

This is the most serious degree under Florida statute 806.01(1). It is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison, 30 years probation, and $10,000 in fines.

First degree arson applies when the arson results in damage to:

  • Any dwelling, whether occupied or not
  • Any structure where people are present
  • Any structure where the defendant knows someone is present

Second Degree Arson

Under Florida statute 806.01(2), second degree arson is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

It applies when the arson damages any structure that is unoccupied and where no people are present.

Third Degree Arson

This is defined under Florida statute 806.01(3). It is a third-degree felony with up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Third degree arson occurs when the fire or explosion damages any unoccupied structure and the defendant does not know or have reasonable grounds to believe the structure is occupied.

Aggravated Arson

Under Florida statute 806.031, an arson offense becomes aggravated arson if it results in:

  • Great bodily harm to any person
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement to any person

This elevates the arson to a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison and $10,000 in fines, regardless of the degree.

Attempted Arson

Under Florida statute 777.04, attempted arson carries the same penalties as completed arson, just one degree lower. For example:

  • Attempted first degree arson becomes a second degree felony
  • Attempted second degree arson becomes a third degree felony

Defenses Against Arson Charges

Some potential defenses against arson charges in Florida include:

  • Lack of intent – Showing the fire was accidental and not willful or intentional. 
  • No proof of involvement – Demonstrating lack of evidence proving you started the fire. 
  • Alibi – Providing proof you were elsewhere and could not have committed arson. 
  • Insanity – Arguing you were legally insane and unable to understand actions. 
  • Duress – Claiming you were forced to commit arson against your will. 
  • Necessity – Arguing arson was necessary to prevent imminent harm. 

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help assess defenses and build the strongest case.

Penalties for Arson Conviction

The penalties for an arson conviction depend on the degree, but can include: 

  • Years to decades of prison time
  • Thousands of dollars in fines
  • Probation lasting decades
  • Permanent criminal record

Other consequences can include inability to gain employment, loss of professional licenses, and immigration issues.

Statute of Limitations

For most arson charges in Florida, the statute of limitations is 3 years from the date of the alleged offense. 

However, there is no time limit if the arson resulted in death or serious bodily injury.

Seek Legal Help Immediately

Being questioned or charged with arson is scary. The penalties are severe. It is critical to invoke the right to remain silent until you can consult with a criminal defense attorney. They can assess your case and advise the best options. Don’t delay getting legal help.


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