Arson

When a fire occurs, the law assumes that it had a natural or accidental cause unless the Prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the fire was set intentionally.  When an criminal investigation commences it is important to hire an experienced criminal lawyer fast.

Arson of a Dwelling House is a 20 year maximum felony under Michigan law. The crime of Arson of a Dwelling House has 3 elements that the Prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict:
1) The Defendant burned the home or dwelling in question.  Burn means to either set fire, do anything that results in the starting of a fire, or helping or persuading someone else to start a fire.  If any part of the home is burned, no matter how small, that is all that is necessary to count as burning – the property does not have to be completely destroyed.  Blackend by smoke is not considered as burning; any charring is considered as burning.
2) At the time of the burning the building was a dwelling house.  A dwelling house is a structure that was actually being lived in, or reasonably could have been lived in at the time of the fire.
3) When the Defendant burned the home or dwelling house, or any of its contents, he or she intended to burn the home,  dwelling house  or its contents or intentionally committed an act that created a very high risk of burning the dwelling or its contents and that, while committing the act, the Defendant knew of that risk and disregarded it.
There are arson offenses take into cnsideration the fair market value of the property, such as Arson of Personal Property and Preparation to Burn Property. The severity of the crime of Arson of Personal Property or Preparation to Burn Property is determined by the fair market value of the item or items damaged or destroyed at the time of the allegation.  Arson of Personal Property or Preparation to Burn Property over $20,000 or with 2 prior convictions for arson is a 10 year felony; between $1,000 and $20,000 or with 1 prior conviction for arson is a 5 year felony; betweem $200 and $1,000 is a 1 year misdemeanor; Under $200 is a 93 day misdemeanor.
The crime of Arson of Personal Property has 4 elements that the Prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict:
1) The Defendant burned the personal property in question.  Burn means to either set fire, do anything that results in the starting of a fire, or helping or persuading someone else to start a fire.  If any part of the home is burned, no matter how small, that is all that is necessary to count as burning – the property does not have to be completely destroyed.  Blackend by smoke is not considered as burning; any charring is considered as burning.
2) The property that was burned was personal property.  Personal property means any property that is not a building or a fixture to the building.
3) When the Defendant burned the personal property, he or she intended to burn the dwelling or its contents or intentionally committed an act that created a very high risk of burning the dwelling or its contents and that, while committing the act, the Defendant knew of that risk and disregarded it.
4) The property had a fair market value of either $20,000 or more, $1,000 but less than $20,000, $200 or more but less than $1,000, or some amount less than $200.
For the offense of Preparation to Burn Property the Prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict:
1) The Defendant put in or around the alleged property some kind of flammable or explosive material or device.
2) When the Defendant did this, he or she intended to set a fire, knowing that this would cause injury or damage to another person or to property, and that the Defendant did it without just cause or excuse.
3) The property had a fair market value of either $20,000 or more, $1,000 but less than $20,000, $200 or more but less than $1,000, or some amount less than $200 when the Defendant intended to burn it.
If there was a scheme or course of conduct within a 12 month period, the values of the property from the separate incidents are added together to determine the fair market value in question.
Burning of Insured Property is a 10 year felony.  For this crime the Prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following in order to convict:
1) The Defendant burned the personal property in question.  Burn means to either set fire, do anything that results in the starting of a fire, or helping or persuading someone else to start a fire.  If any part of the home is burned, no matter how small, that is all that is necessary to count as burning – the property does not have to be completely destroyed.  Blackend by smoke is not considered as burning; any charring is considered as burning.
2) At the time of the burning the property was insured against loss or damage by fire.
3) At the time of the burning, the Defendant knew that the property was insured.
4) When the Defendant burned the property he or she intended to set a fire, knowing that this would cause injury or damage to another person or to property, and that the Defendant did it without just cause or excuse.
5) When the Defendant burned the property he or she intended to defraud or cheat the insurer.
Other less common arson related offenses include the following: Arson of Woods or Praries is a 4 year maximum felony; Arson of Mines is a life offense.
All Arson related offenses are treated very seriously by Courts because of the potential for danger, and the often senseless nature of the offense.  The applicable sentence guidelines escalate pretty quickly depending upon the Defendant’s prior record, his or her current history with the criminal justice system,  and the facts and circumstances of the case.  For these types of cases it is necessary to have an experienced, talented criminal defense attorney to defend the case.
For some arson cases it is important to retain the right expert to properly determine the cause of the fire.  Sometimes an accidental fire is misconstrued as a real fire.  Sometimes the wrong person is blamed for a fire which he or she had nothing to do with, which is discovered only after a proper investigation.  A private investigator may be necessary to pursue lead that the police ignore or fail to discover.  Sometimes the issue is the fair market value of the item burned, and the valuation may be the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor.  An expert appraisal may be necessary to defend the case.  When a conviction occurs, the Sentencing Court often is swayed by a psychological assessment of the Defendant to provide mitigating information. The amount of restitution also is a sentencing issue which may be determined at a restitution hearing if the amount is in dispute.  An expert may be needed for this determination as well.  The right criminal attorney can bring these resources together, when necessary, to reach the best possible for the Defendant.  For arson cases, it is recommended that you retain the services of Attorney Daniel Hilf.