While many individuals are aware that arson involves setting something on fire, the legal definition of arson under Nevada law goes beyond mere fire-setting. As this offense can be highly disruptive and even deadly, prosecutors are diligent in ensuring that those charged with arson face the full extent of the law. The specific charge filed against you will depend on whether the fire was intentionally caused or a result of negligence.
If you’re the subject of an arson investigation, you should seek legal counsel from a professional defense attorney. We at The Law Offices of Martin Hart understand the potential consequences of an arson conviction and are here to help. Our team of Las Vegas attorneys can provide the necessary assistance to contest the accusations and protect your rights.
An Overview of Arson Under Nevada Law
According to the Nevada Revised Statutes, arson is defined as the intentional act of setting fire to a building, structure, or property to burn, scorch, or char any part of it or its contents. This definition applies to all types of buildings, structures, or properties. There are four distinct degrees of Nevada arson, each corresponding to a different level of offense. Below is an explanation of the arson degrees.
Degrees of Arson
Arson is categorized into four different levels, and the potential range of punishment depends on the specific level of arson for which the prosecution charges. Each degree of arson carries the possibility of probation. In addition to fines and fees, the court may also order you to pay for the costs associated with the police and fire departments, as well as the expenses related to the investigation and prosecution of the offense.
Whether inhabited or not, first-degree arson is the deliberate and malicious act of setting fire to, burning, or causing any kind of building or mobile home to burn. First-degree arson also includes igniting, burning, or causing to burn personal property that is inhabited by multiple people.
First-degree arson encompasses various actions, such as intentionally arranging for someone else to burn down a house, building, mobile home, or other property. If convicted of first-degree arson, the offender may face a prison sentence ranging from two to fifteen years, along with a potential fine of $15, 000. It is important to note that first-degree arson is classified as a Class B felony.
The main distinction between second-degree and first-degree arson is that in the former, the structure involved, whether it belongs to you or someone else, should be abandoned. The penalties for this offense include one to ten years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10, 000. Additionally, it is classified as a Class B crime.
3rd Degree Arson
Third-degree arson is defined as the deliberate and malicious act of setting something on fire, causing it to burn, assisting in its burning, or obtaining the means to burn it. This involves:
- Any of someone else's personal belongings valued at more than $25 and deemed unusable
- Any unclaimed personal property that has a legal stake by another individual
- Anything combustible that is not your property, such as grass, bushes, wood, crops, or other vegetation.
Third-degree arson is classified as a Class D Felony, carrying a potential punishment of $5, 000 and a sentence range of one to four years.
According to NRS 205. 010, NRS 205. 015, and NRS 205. 020, which defines first, second, and third-degree arson, respectively, any deliberate and malicious attempt to set fire to, cause to burn, aid in, or procure the burning of the listed buildings or property constitutes fourth-degree arson. Additionally, if you engage in any premeditated act to ignite any of the mentioned structures or properties, you may also be charged with fourth-degree arson.
Fourth-degree arson is demonstrated by placing explosive or combustible materials inside a building to start a fire. As a category D felony, fourth-degree arson carries a potential sentence of one to four years in prison as well as a $5,000 fine.
Using Arson to Defraud an Insurance Company
Insurance fraud, which is commonly referred to as arson, involves intentionally setting fire to a building, structure, or personal property to defraud an insurance company. Property insurance against fire damage is typically required. This type of arson is considered a category B felony and is punishable by a fine of up to $5, 000, as well as a prison term ranging from one to six years.
"Malicious and Willful" Explained
An accident cannot be classified as arson. Therefore, even if you acted intentionally but without malice, you are not guilty of arson.
Setting fire to your bookcase because you're cold and your house is without heat is also not considered arson. Although you acted willfully, meaning you intended to do it, you did not act maliciously. Your intent was not to cause harm or commit a bad deed, so it cannot be classified as malicious. Similarly, knocking over a candle and accidentally burning down a house is also not considered arson, as it lacks willful and malicious intent.
Possible Defenses For Arson Charges
Even though arson is a horrible crime, individuals have the right to defend themselves in court. A strong defense can compel the prosecution to reduce the severity of the charge or dismiss it altogether. There are several potential defenses to charges of arson or careless burning, including the following:
Your Actions Were Not Malicious or Willful
A defense against arson involves demonstrating that your actions were negligent. For instance, if you intentionally set off fireworks that accidentally land on your neighbor's property and cause a fire, it can be argued that you did not act maliciously and certainly did not intend to harm your neighbor. On the other hand, the prosecutor must establish that the act was both malicious and willful, as previously explained.
Engaging Expert Witnesses
In arson cases, it is not uncommon for the prosecutor's witnesses to make mistakes regarding the use of accelerants or the cause of the fire. That's why it is crucial to have an expert who can thoroughly examine the physical evidence. These cases can become highly technical and involve a significant amount of scientific knowledge. By hiring an expert witness to review the prosecutor's evidence, you can effectively challenge any claims regarding the use of accelerants or contest the cause of the property damage.
You Started the Fire By Accident
To prove your guilt, the prosecution needs to demonstrate that you intentionally set fire to harm or damage another person. However, it's important to note that, under Nevada law, not all intentional fires are considered arson. If you can argue that the fire was accidental and you did not start it with the intent to destroy or damage property, it could support your defense.
The prosecution could lower your charges from purposeful arson to reckless burning. However, if it is determined that you were negligent when starting the fire, the charges cannot be dropped.
The burden of proof lies with the prosecution to establish your intent to cause a fire. However, without solid or confirming evidence, the chances of securing a conviction are extremely low. Building a strong case for arson requires the following pieces of proof:
- An internet search for "how to start a fire"
- The process of identifying a witness
- Finding concrete evidence around your property, such as empty gasoline cans
- Criminal intent arising from a strong desire for revenge after losing your job
One justification for filing a claim for compensation with your insurance company is if you are wrongly charged with arson of a private property.
Due to the impact and legal ramifications of the offense, it is not uncommon for individuals to falsely accuse someone of arson out of retaliation, anger, or envy. In the aftermath of a fire, people may experience anxiety, leading some to hastily flee the scene. If a witness observes you exiting a burning building, they may suspect you of starting the fire and report it to the police.
A skilled criminal defense lawyer can assist you in examining various aspects of your case and presenting a defense strategy against false accusations in court. In a different scenario, the actual perpetrator may try to shift the blame onto you for arson in an attempt to avoid prosecution.
You Took Action While Under Duress
Therefore, if you can demonstrate that you were intimidated, forced, or coerced into acting in the manner you did, you can defend the charges and avoid being found guilty under these statutes. The prosecution is responsible for providing evidence that your actions were intentional from the start.
Not Having the Intention to Carry Out Arson
Arson is a crime that necessitates clear intent. To secure a conviction, the prosecution needs to prove that your actions were intentional and deliberate. They should establish that you had the specific intention to commit the offense. However, if you can demonstrate that you lacked the necessary intent to carry out the crime, you will not be convicted under this provision.
Getting an Arson Conviction Expunged
If an individual is found guilty of arson, their criminal record can be expunged if they meet the following standards:
- Satisfactorily completes probation
- Completes the prison term
A defendant could be entitled to have the case dismissed even if they violate the conditions of probation. However, the judge would ultimately have the final say on this matter. Under Nevada law, an expungement relieves a person of nearly all penalties and restrictions associated with the conviction.
Why Will I Be Charged With Arson If I Didn't Start Any Fires?
Even if an individual has not physically started a fire on any car or plant, they could still face charges of third-degree arson. A person can also be charged as an accomplice to Nevada arson if they provide advice, assistance, or facilitate the burning of property by another person.
It is possible to charge someone for arson, even if they were not present when the fire began. This is due to the capability of remotely igniting a fire. For example, if you wanted to set a victim's truck on fire, you could hire someone else to do it. Once they accept the assignment, they proceed to light the truck on fire, resulting in its destruction. In this situation, both you and the hired arsonist could face arson charges.
What Takes Place During Arson Investigations?
Due to the significant damage and potential for injuries, arson is considered one of the most severe crimes in Nevada. Prosecuting arson cases can be extremely challenging because the prosecution must demonstrate that the fire was intentionally or recklessly caused by your actions.
Investigators rely on state-of-the-art equipment and chemical experts to determine the origin of the fire and connect it to your involvement. In addition, they may interview witnesses and request their testimony to further strengthen the case.
The charges you face and the outcome of an arson investigation can have a significant impact on the penalties you may receive. If the investigators determine that your actions were only negligent, you could face charges of reckless burning.
However, if your actions caused harm to someone else or resulted in significant damage, the prosecutor can bring accusations of arson. Since arson investigations can be lengthy, it is important to consider securing a release on bail and working closely with your attorney to build a strong defense against these allegations.
Find a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Arson is a serious crime. If you are facing arson charges, it is crucial to promptly hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Their expertise is essential in negotiating for reduced charges, seeking dismissal of your charges, or providing a solid defense in court to potentially secure a lower sentence. At The Law Offices of Martin Hart, we take pride in giving our clients the best possible representation across Las Vegas, Nevada, and we are ready to help defend you. Call us today at 702-380-4278 to speak with one of our attorneys if you are facing arson or related charges.