Have you Been Charged with Arson in the First Degree?
Arson is a severe crime and is one that has multiple crimes associated with it. Arson is broken down into three different degrees: first-degree arson, second-degree arson, and third-degree arson. It is irrelevant as to how valuable the property is for first and second-degree arson. However, third-degree arson applies to personal property that has a value of at least $250.00. All degrees of arson are prosecuted as felonies in Georgia. It is important to understand the differences between each degree and how to best defend against the charge. Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia Arson Attorneys have decades of criminal experience and understand to craft the best defense based on your specific case. Contact our office for a free case evaluation.
Georgia Law on Arson in the First Degree
O.C.G.A. §16-7-60 states that a person will be guilty of arson in the first degree when, by means of fire or explosion, whether or not in the commission of a felony, he or she knowingly damages or knowingly causes, aids, abets, advises, encourages, hires, counsels, or procures another to damage:
- Any dwelling house of another without his or her consent or in which another has a security interest, including but not limited to a mortgage, a lien, or a conveyance to secure debt, without the consent of both, whether it is occupied, unoccupied, or vacant;
- Any building, vehicle, railroad car, watercraft, or other structure of another without his or her consent or in which another has a security interest, including but not limited to a mortgage, a lien, or a conveyance to secure debt, without the consent of both, if such structure is designed for use as a dwelling, whether it is occupied, unoccupied, or vacant;
- Any dwelling house, building, vehicle, railroad car, watercraft, aircraft, or other structure whether it is occupied, unoccupied, or vacant and when such is insured against loss or damage by fire or explosive and such loss or damage is accomplished without the consent of both the insurer and the insured;
- Any dwelling house, building, vehicle, railroad car, watercraft, aircraft, or other structure whether it is occupied, unoccupied, or vacant with the intent to defeat, prejudice, or defraud the rights of a spouse or co-owner; or
- Any building, vehicle, railroad car, watercraft, aircraft, or other structure under such circumstances that is reasonably foreseeable that human life might be endangered.
The main elements of arson are (1) the damage was knowingly done and (2) it was done by fire or explosive. Without both of these factors, a defendant cannot be guilty of arson.
Georgia Case Law
A man was convicted of arson in the first degree in Graf v. State. 327 Ga. App. 598, (2014). The Forsyth County Fire Department was called out to a fire that completely destroyed Graf's house. No one was home at the time of the fire. An arson investigator concluded that the fire was intentionally set and noticed that it was unusual for Graf, her children, and the family cats to be gone at the time of the fire. In addition, investigators found clothing, jewelry, furniture, medical records, and school records at a friend of Graf's house. There was also evidence that Graf was having money problems. Graf argued that all of the evidence was merely circumstantial, but the jury concluded that there was sufficient evidence to find that she knowingly damaged her house. Therefore, she was convicted of arson in the first degree.
What Has to be Proven to be Convicted of Arson in the First Degree in Georgia
To be guilty of arson in the first degree, the State must demonstrate that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This involves showing that the fire was of an incendiary origin and that the accused was the person who did the burning.
Penalty for Arson in the First Degree in Georgia
A person convicted of arson in the first degree shall be punished by a fine of no more than $50,000 or by a prison term between one and twenty years, or both. Furthermore, it will be a felony conviction, which carries far-reaching consequences. Having a felony conviction can make it difficult to find employment, obtain credit, buy a house, and will result in a loss of voting rights.
1st Degree Arson Defenses
Consent for Burning: An act of burning is not criminal if both the insurer and the insured have agreed to the act. However, if both have not consented to the act, then the burning becomes an act of arson.
It was accidental: Evidence proving that the damage was done without the knowledge of damaging or intending to damage would be greatly beneficially to your case.
The damage was not done by fire or explosive: First-degree arson requires that the damage is done by fire or explosive. If there is proof that the property was not damaged by one of those ways, then you cannot be guilty of arson. However, you could still be guilty of another crime.
What are Not Defenses
The building or house was vacant: An act or arson will be committed whether or not the dwelling or structure was occupied.
I was not the one to damage the property: You do not have to be the one who actually damages the property to be convicted of first-degree arson. If there is proof that you encouraged, hired, counseled, aided, caused, or advised another to damage the property that will be sufficient.
A conviction for arson in any degree comes with significant consequences. You need legal assistance from the very beginning in order to have a chance at winning your case. The office of Lawson and Berry has over 50 combined years of criminal defense experience, and their attorneys are some of Georgia's best. They are here to answer any questions you may have and to defend you to the best of their ability. Contact us today for a free case evaluation. Remember a charge is not the same as a conviction so do not give up on your case.