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Tampa Lawyers Outline the Punishments for Different Levels of Arson

Tampa Lawyers Break Down Arson Charges and Penalties

Arson is a very serious crime that can lead to some hefty punishments here in Tampa. As local defense attorneys, we often get asked about the different levels of arson charges and what kind of penalties folks are looking at if convicted. There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about arson laws, so I wanted to break it down and explain the basics.

First off, arson is defined as the willful and malicious burning of someone else’s property. So if you intentionally set fire to something that doesn’t belong to you, that’s arson. There are different degrees based on what exactly you burned.

First Degree Arson

This is the most serious arson charge in Florida. According to Florida statute 806.01, you can be charged with first degree arson if you maliciously burn:

  • A dwelling, whether occupied or not
  • A structure where people live or congregate, like an apartment building
  • Any structure that someone else owns, if the fire causes damage to another person’s dwelling or structure

First degree arson is a first degree felony in Florida. That means if convicted, you’re looking at:

  • Up to 30 years in prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

Because first degree arson involves burning an occupied or livable structure, prosecutors tend to pursue these charges aggressively. Juries also tend to view defendants harshly when lives are put at risk.

Second Degree Arson

Second degree arson applies when you maliciously burn or cause to be burned:

  • Any structure that isn’t a dwelling, like a commercial building
  • Property worth $1,000 or more that isn’t a structure, like someone’s car

This is a second degree felony with penalties of:

  • Up to 15 years in prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

While not as serious as first degree, second degree arson charges are still no joke. Prosecutors typically seek jail or prison time if substantial damage is done.

Third Degree Arson

Florida’s third degree arson law covers maliciously burning or causing to be burned:

  • Any property worth less than $1,000 that isn’t a structure
  • Any other property, if the damage done is less than $1,000

Some examples would be burning someone’s fence or setting their lawn on fire. Third degree arson is a third degree felony with penalties of:

  • Up to 5 years in prison
  • Up to $5,000 in fines

While not as serious as higher degrees, third degree arson charges shouldn’t be taken lightly. Prosecutors may still seek jail time depending on the circumstances.

Defenses to Arson Charges

When defending against arson charges, some of the most common strategies Tampa criminal defense lawyers use include:

  • Accident or mistake – For example, you accidentally knocked over a candle that started a fire.
  • Intoxication – You were too impaired to form criminal intent.
  • Entrapment – Law enforcement pressured you into committing arson.
  • Insanity – You suffered from mental illness that made you unable to understand your actions.
  • Duress – Someone threatened or coerced you into committing arson.

It can be tough to win an arson case with an accident defense, since prosecutors often call expert witnesses. Arson investigators use scientific techniques to determine if accelerants like gasoline were used. They also examine burn patterns to deduce if the fire was intentionally set.

A skilled Tampa criminal defense lawyer can carefully examine the prosecution’s arson evidence and look for flaws or reasonable doubt. With the right attorney, even serious arson charges can potentially be reduced or dismissed.

Juvenile Arson Charges

Arson laws also apply to juveniles here in Florida. However, penalties are usually less severe compared to adults. Some key differences include:

  • Juveniles are more likely to be charged with misdemeanor arson.
  • Jail time may be served in a juvenile detention facility rather than adult prison.
  • Records can sometimes be sealed after turning 18.

Still, arson convictions can negatively impact a juvenile’s future. An experienced juvenile crimes lawyer can advocate for reduced charges, diversion programs, or other alternatives to avoid a permanent criminal record.

Federal Arson Charges

In some cases, arson may also constitute a federal crime. Under 18 U.S. Code § 844, you can face federal charges for arson involving:

  • Any property owned, possessed, or leased by the federal government
  • Property involved in interstate commerce
  • Property connected to any federally funded/insured bank

Penalties for federal arson convictions include:

  • 5-20 years in federal prison
  • Fines up to $250,000

If anyone is injured or killed due to the arson, penalties can be increased up to life imprisonment or death. Hiring an experienced federal crimes attorney is critical when facing federal arson charges.

Get a Strong Defense Against Arson Charges

I hope this overview gives you a better understanding of the arson laws and penalties here in Tampa. As you can see, these charges are very serious and require an aggressive defense. Don’t leave your future to chance – call a top-rated local arson defense lawyer right away for a free case review.

With an experienced attorney on your side, you can potentially beat your charges at trial, or negotiate them down to lesser offenses. Don’t wait, contact our office today and protect your rights. We’re available 24/7 to take your call and start building your defense.

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