Arson is the criminal offense by which one intentionally damages property by the use of fire or explosives. The most common target that is damaged by arson are buildings. Nonetheless, the property damaged by arson can also be motor vehicles or watercraft. There are five different degrees of arson offenses in the New York criminal code. The least serious arson offense is the crime of arson in the fifth degree. Under New York Penal Law § 150.01, arson in the fifth degree entails intentionally damaging or destroying the property of another person without the consent of the owner by intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion.
Brent was angry with his girlfriend because she had just broken up with him. Later that night, he decided to retaliate against her for this by setting her house on fire. Brent’s good friend Luke talked him out of it. He convinced Brent that setting his ex-girlfriend’s house on fire was a bad idea and could get him in a world of trouble. Brent appeared to have taken Luke’s advice and left his ex-girlfriend alone. Nevertheless, Brent, still angry, decided to light a retail store on fire instead.
In another case, Lennox was also angry with his ex-girlfriend. He went over to her house and banged on the front door over and over. She didn’t want to see him, so his ex-girlfriend refused to open the door. Lennox didn’t leave right away. Forlorn, he lingered on her porch for a while smoking a cigarette. When he was done smoking, he absentmindedly flicked the still lit cigarette butt and started to walk away. The butt landed in a pile of newspapers that were on the porch, concealed in the shadows of the evening behind the old wooden railing. Unbeknownst to Lennox, the papers lit up like dry kindling and then the porch was soon engulfed in flames.
Brent could be prosecuted for arson in the fifth degree while Lennox could not. Brent intentionally set a structure on fire while Lennox did so accidentally.
Offenses that are Related
Arson in the Fourth Degree: New York Penal Law § 150.05
Arson in the Third Degree: New York Penal Law § 150.10
Arson in the Second Degree: New York Penal Law § 150.15
Arson in the First Degree: New York Penal Law § 150.20
A possible defense against a charge of arson in the fifth degree is that you did not intentionally set a fire, rather you lit it by accident. If the fire was truly an accident, then the prosecutor will have a hard time convicting you of arson in the fifth degree. A possible alternative defense is that you were the sole owner of the property that was damaged or destroyed. Under the arson in the fifth degree statute, to be guilty, you must have damaged or destroyed the property of another person.
Arson in the fifth degree is categorized as a class A misdemeanor. The maximum possible jail sentence you could get for this crime is 1 year. The judge may even opt to sentence you to probation instead of jail. The probation term you might get would be 3 years. On top of that, the judge may additionally order you to pay a fine to the court and also pay monetary restitution to the victim.
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