Fires and explosions cause billions of dollars in property damage and thousands of deaths every year. While not all fires result from intentional or reckless conduct, many fires and explosions are purposely set with the intent to damage or destroy buildings, vehicles, or other property. Though there are several degrees of charges and nuances in the law that determine how the crime will be prosecuted, this is the essence of the criminal offense of arson.
In 2020, there were 21,833 arson offenses reported in the United States, causing an average of $30,537 in damage per offense, according to the National Incident-Based Reporting System. Some acts of arson are for monetary gains, such as to obtain insurance proceeds. Many arsons are specifically directed towards a specific person or business, while some people intentionally set fires because of mental illness. Given the damage caused by arson and the frequent harm or death to people that occurs in such crimes, arson is treated like a violent crime and aggressively prosecuted in Washington state and comes with severe penalties upon conviction.
If you face arson charges or have been charged with the related offense of reckless burning, you are in serious legal peril. Hiring an experienced Washington state criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible will give you the best chance to avoid an arson conviction’s immediate and long-term consequences. For over two decades, Milios Defense has aggressively defended the rights, freedom, and futures of those facing criminal charges, including arson and reckless burning. We have built an impressive track record of acquittals and other favorable outcomes and helped countless clients put their ordeals behind them and move forward with their lives.
What Is Arson in Washington State?
There are four degrees of arson offenses under Washington state law. The nature and severity of the charges largely depend on the person’s intent and mental state at the time of the act, the type of property targeted or damaged, whether people were put in danger, injured, or killed, and the extent of losses caused.
The most serious of Washington arson charges, first-degree arson is when a person knowingly and maliciously either:
- Causes a fire or explosion, which is manifestly dangerous to any human life, including firefighters.
- Causes a fire or explosion which damages a dwelling.
- Causes a fire or explosion in any building in which there shall be, at the time, a human being who is not a participant in the crime.
- Causes a fire or explosion on property valued at $10,000 or more with intent to collect insurance proceeds.
Arson in the first degree is a Class A felony, with the potential for a sentence of life in prison and fines of up to $50,000.
A person is guilty of arson in the second degree if they knowingly and maliciously cause a fire or explosion which damages any of the following, including:
- A building, or any structure or erection appurtenant to or joining any building.
- Any wharf, dock, machine, engine, automobile, or other motor vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, bridge, or trestle.
- Hay, grain, crop, or timber, whether cut or standing or any range land, or pasture, land, or any fence, or any lumber, shingle, or other timber products, or any property.
As a Class B felony, a second-degree arson conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years and fines of up to $20,000.
Two other charges that fall under the umbrella of arson in Washington are called “reckless burning.” The key distinction between arson charges and reckless burning charges is that the former involves causing a fire or explosion “knowingly and maliciously,” while the latter only involves doing so “knowingly.”
A person is guilty of first-degree reckless burning if they recklessly damage a building or other structure or any vehicle, railway car, aircraft, watercraft, hay, grain, crop, or timber, whether cut or standing, by knowingly causing a fire or explosion. As a Class C felony, first-degree reckless burning can result in up to five years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
Second-degree reckless burning occurs when a person knowingly causes a fire or explosion (whether on their own property or another person’s property) and recklessly places any of the following in danger of destruction or damage:
- A building or other structure.
- Any vehicle, railway car, aircraft, or watercraft.
- Any hay, grain, crop, or timber (cut or standing).
As a gross misdemeanor, second-degree reckless burning can lead to up to a year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
There are several defenses to arson and reckless burning charges that your criminal defense attorney can assert if you face prosecution for these serious crimes. At Milios Defense, we have extensive experience defending our clients against these charges. If you face arson charges of any kind in Washington state, please contact us at 206-207-1067 or complete our online form to arrange your free initial consultation.