California's arson laws, PC 451 and 452, make it a crime to set fire to any building, forest land, or property—either
- willfully and maliciously (this is the crime commonly known as “arson”), or
- recklessly (this crime is often called “reckless burning” or “reckless arson”)1
You can even be charged with California arson for setting your own property on fire, if
- the property is a building or other real estate,
- you set fire to your personal property for a fraudulent purpose (to commit California insurance fraud, for example), or
- the fire causes injury to another person or to another person's home, property, or land.2
Examples of violations of California's arson and reckless burning laws include:
- Setting fire to someone else's car as an act of revenge,
- Setting fire to a restaurant you own in order to collect insurance money, and
- Causing a forest fire through reckless behavior (like throwing a lit cigarette into grass despite posted signs warning you not to).
The punishment for arson charges in California depends on
- the type of property that was burned,
- whether or not someone was injured, and
- whether you set the fire willfully or only “recklessly.”3
For example, under Penal Code 452 PC, so-called “reckless burning” of personal property is a misdemeanor in California law.4
Willful and malicious arson is always a felony in California law, according to Penal Code 451 PC.6
Because both intentional and so-called “reckless” acts can result in felony arson charges, it is important to consult with a California arson defense attorney immediately upon an accusation. S/he knows the most effective ways to have your arson charges reduced or even dismissed.
Some common legal defenses can be useful in California arson cases include:
- The fire was an accident,
- The evidence against you is insufficient,
- The accusations against are false,
- You are the victim of mistaken identification, and
- The fire was not even the result of arson.
In order to help you better understand the California “property destruction” crime of arson, our California criminal defense attorneys will address the following:
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
You may also find helpful information in our related articles on California Insurance Fraud; Legal Definition of a Misdemeanor in California Law; Legal Definition of a “Wobbler” in California Law; The Legal Definition of Great Bodily Injury/Harm Penal Code 12022.7; Legal Definition of a Felony in California Law; Common Legal Defenses to California Crimes; California Murder Penal Code 187 PC; The California “Felony-Murder” Rule; California's Three Strikes Law and Proposition 36 Reforms; Attempted Crimes in California Criminal Law Penal Code sections 21a and 664 PC; Registration as a Sex Offender under Penal Code 290 PC; How to Apply for a California “Certificate of Rehabilitation” Penal Code Sections 4852.01 – 4852.21 PC; Accident as a Legal Defense under California Criminal Law; The California Legal Defenses of Voluntary Intoxication and Involuntary Intoxication; Circumstantial Evidence in California Criminal Law; Mistaken Eyewitness Identification and California Law; The California Death Penalty; California Burglary Penal Code 459 PC; and California Criminal “Trespass” & “Trespassing” Laws Penal Code 602 PC.
The legal definition of arson in California depends on which California arson law you are being charged under.
The first California arson statute is California Penal Code 451, which prohibits “willfully or maliciously” setting fire to a building, land, or other property.8
The second California arson law is California Penal Code 452, which describes a crime technically referred to as “unlawfully causing a fire”—and more commonly referred to as “reckless burning” or “reckless arson.” This code section prohibits recklessly setting fire to a building, land, or other property.9
The main difference between arson and reckless arson / reckless burning is the defendant's state of mind.
The legal definition of arson under PC 451, the “malicious arson” law, consists of the following facts (otherwise known as “elements of the crime”):
- You set fire to or burned a structure, forest land, or property, AND
- You did so willfully and maliciously.10
Under California's arson law, the prosecutor must prove both of these facts to show that your behavior met the legal definition of malicious arson.
Let's take a closer look at some of these terms to better understand their meaning.
Set fire to or burn
For purposes of the arson law, you set fire to or burn something when you damage or destroy it with fire. You don't need to damage or destroy the entire object—damaging even a very small part of it counts.11
Example: Lester is laid off from his job. In a fit of rage, he decides to burn down the five-story building where his old company is located.
Lester sets a fire at the building one night after everyone has left. But he is not experienced at starting fires, and only the building's front door is actually damaged before the fire goes out.
Lester has still committed malicious arson—even though only a very small part of the building he targeted was burned.
Structure, forest land, or property
A “structure” includes not just a building—but also any bridge, tunnel, power plant, or commercial or public tent.12
“Forest land” means any brush-covered land, cut-over land, forest, grasslands, or woods.13
Finally, “property” means any personal property (like a car, a boat, furniture, or even clothing14) or land other than forest land.15
Example: Louise, a high school student, uses cardboard to set a fire in a trash can at her school.
Louise is guilty of arson. The trash she burned is considered to be personal property, and it belonged to the school.16
If the object that is burned is personal property, it is also necessary that the property NOT be your own—it has to be someone else's. Otherwise, it is not a crime to burn it—UNLESS either of the following is true:
- You burn the property with the intent to defraud someone (like an insurance company), or
- The fire also injures another person or their property.17
Willful and malicious
You act "willfully" if you commit an act willingly or on purpose. It doesn't matter if you didn't mean to break the law.18
You act "maliciously" if you intentionally commit a wrongful act—or when you do something with the unlawful intent to
- annoy, or
In other words, to be guilty of Penal Code 451 “malicious arson,” you need to have intended to do something wrong or to harm someone else or their property.
If you did not have this intent, then you may be charged instead with—or may be able to plea bargain down to—Penal Code 452 “reckless burning.”
The legal definition of Penal Code 452 PC reckless arson (also known as reckless burning) consists of the following two elements:
- You set fire to or burned a structure, forest land, or property, and
- You did so “recklessly.”20
Here's what it means to act “recklessly” for the purposes of California Penal Code 452:
- You are aware that your actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire,
- You ignore that risk, and
- Doing so is a gross deviation from how a reasonable person would act in the same situation.21
“Reckless” is actually a high standard and is not synonymous with careless or negligent. True “accidents”—such as forgetting to turn off the stove—don't make a person guilty of reckless burning.
However, acting with a complete disregard for safety may. Examples of reckless burning include acts such as
- throwing a burning cigarette into dry brush, or
- lighting a match next to highly flammable materials.
Example: John lives in a trailer on the property where he works as a caretaker. The trailer has no cooking facilities, so he uses a campfire in a fire ring for all his cooking. There is a sign nearby saying that fires are prohibited in the area.
One day, John builds a campfire so he can make coffee, then puts it out (or so he thinks) with sand. Soon strong winds start blowing, and the campfire becomes a forest fire.
The fire ends up burning multiple homes and acres of national forest land.
But John is NOT guilty of reckless burning. He may have been negligent. But, since the campfire was the only way he could cook, it wasn't reckless—a gross deviation from reasonable behavior—for him to build the fire where he did.22
Sentencing and penalties for California arson charges vary a great deal, depending on factors including:
- whether you are convicted of malicious or reckless arson,
- the nature of the property that you burned,
- whether any people were injured as a result of the fire, and
- your criminal history.23
If you are convicted of any arson offense, the judge may order you to submit to a psychiatric or psychological evaluation in order to help him/her decide on the length of your jail or prison sentence.24
PC 451 willful or malicious arson is always a felony in California law, punishable by imprisonment inthe California state prison.25
The potential prison terms for willful/malicious arson are:
- Sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years for malicious arson of personal property;
- Two (2), four (4) or six (6) years for malicious arson of a structure or forest land;
- Three (3), five (5) or eight (8) years for malicious arson that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn; and
- Five (5), seven (7) or nine (9) years for arson that causes great bodily injury.26
In addition, all forms of willful/malicious arson carry a fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).27
Not only that, but you may face an additional fine in the amount of either
- fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) in fines, or
- twice the amount of your actual or anticipated gain from the fire, if the prosecutor proves that you set the fire for financial gain.28
Finally, a malicious arson conviction is a “strike” on your criminal record under California's Three Strikes Law.29 (Because of this, your arson attorney may try to have your malicious arson charge reduced to reckless burning under Penal Code 452 in a plea bargain.)
Basic reckless burning of personal property under PC 452 is a misdemeanor. The potential penalties are up to six (6) months in county jail and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).30
But reckless burning becomes a so-called “wobbler” if the property burned is a structure or forestland, or if it causes great bodily injury.31 This means that it may be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the prosecutor's discretion.
The potential sentences for the various forms of reckless arson are:
- For reckless burning of a structure or forest land, up to six (6) months in county jail (misdemeanor sentence), or sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years in state prison (felony sentence);
- For reckless burning of an inhabited structure or inhabited property, up to one (1) year in county jail (misdemeanor sentence), or two (2), three (3) or four (4) years in state prison (felony sentence); and
- For reckless burning that causes great bodily injury, up to one (1) year in county jail (misdemeanor sentence), or two (2), four (4) or six (6) years in state prison (felony sentence).32
California law also provides for enhanced penalties for so-called “aggravated” arson cases.
Under California law on aggravated arson, you face an additional and consecutive sentence of one (1) to five (5) years in state prison if any of the following circumstances exist:
- You have a prior felony conviction for malicious or reckless arson under either Penal Code 451 or 452 PC;
- A firefighter, officer, or other emergency personnel officer suffers great bodily injury (defined as a significant or substantial physical injury) as a result of the fire;
- More than one (1) person suffers great bodily injury as a result of the fire;
- You cause multiple structures to burn; or
- In the commission of the offense, you use a device to accelerate the fire or to delay ignition.33
In addition, the following two circumstances are so-called “aggravating factors” that may cause the judge to give you a longer sentence:
- You set fire to a structure in retaliation against a person whom you believed owned the burned structure (for example, a landlord who evicted you)34; or
- You knew that you were setting fire to a church, synagogue, or other “place of worship.”35
Finally, if the prosecutor proves that you started a fire intending to injure other people or damage an inhabited dwelling or structure—AND
- you had a prior arson conviction within the past ten (10) years,
- the fire damaged property or and/or caused losses with a total value of more than $5,650,000 (including the cost of fire suppression), OR
- you damaged five or more “inhabited structures,”
then you face a state prison sentence of ten (10) years to life.36
You are also required to register as a California convicted arson offender if you are convicted of
- malicious arson under Penal Code 451 PC,
- aggravated arson resulting in a minimum ten-year prison sentence, as described above,
- possessing, manufacturing, or disposing of any flammable or combustible material, or of any incendiary device in connection with your arson charge, OR
- attempted malicious arson.37
This means that—like an individual who is required to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290 PC—you must routinely keep your local law enforcement agency updated with respect to your whereabouts.38
The length of time that you must register depends on whether you were an adult or minor at the time of your offense, and when you were convicted. But if you were convicted as an adult after November 30, 1994, then the obligation to register is lifelong.39
Failing to register properly is a separate misdemeanor offense, carrying a county jail sentence of at least ninety (90) days and as much as one (1) year.40
If your arson conviction requires you to register as an arson offender, your California arson lawyer may be able to help you secure a certificate of rehabilitation. A certificate of rehabilitation will relieve you of your duty to register.41
Because the penalties for a California arson conviction are so severe, it is critical to get advice from a a skilled California criminal defense and arson lawyer. He or she understands the best strategies to try to get your arson charges or reckless burning charges reduced or even dismissed.
The following are examples of some of the common legal defenses that a California arson defense attorney could present on your behalf.
The fire was an accident
In order to convict you of arson or reckless burning, the prosecutor is supposed to prove that you acted either
- maliciously, or
Thus, arson and reckless burning cases are two of many California crimes where you can use accident as a legal defense. If you can prove that the fire was the result of an accident, you are not guilty of these crimes.
Perhaps you simply forgot to turn off the iron. Perhaps one of your candles “sparked” onto a piece of nearby paper that became ignited.
As San Bernardino criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi explains43,
“It's my job effectively to convince the judge and/or jury that a fire that was accidentally started simply went out of control—and that, despite the fact that people or property may have been injured, it was absolutely an unintended, noncriminal accident that should have happened to anyone.”
That said, if you create the risk of a fire—but were unaware of the risk because you were voluntarily intoxicated (that is, drunk or high on drugs as a result of your own actions)—that will not serve as a defense to a California Penal Code 452 PC reckless burning charge.44
Example: Dave and Ted go camping together and build a campfire in a national forest. They drink large amounts of beer and pass out, drunk, before they are able to put out the campfire. The fire spreads overnight and damages acres of forest land.
Dave and Ted may be charged with Penal Code 452 PC reckless burning even though the fire was definitely an accident—because they got drunk voluntarily, and so put themselves in a situation that prevented them from understanding the risk of fire spreading.
There is insufficient evidence to convict you
Most arson cases are built on circumstantial evidence. With respect to a California arson or reckless burning case, there are usually few, if any, witnesses. Fire-starting devices frequently are destroyed in the fire.
Circumstantial evidence is valid in California criminal trials—but it is more difficult for the prosecutor make his/her case through circumstantial evidence.45 If the prosecutor cannot persuade the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, then you cannot be liable for California arson.
You were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested
There are a number of reasons why an individual might falsely accuse you of arson or reckless burning.
Perhaps s/he accidentally started the fire and is afraid to suffer the consequences. Perhaps s/he intentionally started the fire and is trying to cover up his/her own involvement. Perhaps s/he was trying to collect reward money—the possibilities are endless.
You were mistakenly identified
Mistaken eyewitness identification leads to lots of false charges for arson in California.
Maybe someone identified an individual that fit your description. Maybe someone saw a car that looked like yours leaving the scene. Maybe some of your belongings were found in the fire.
There are a number of reasons why you may have been mistakenly identified as the individual who set the fire. It's just a matter of persuading the judge and/or jury that you were not the one responsible.
The fire was not even started by arson
Arson is a crime which requires very sophisticated technical investigation. In fact, “fire investigator” is now a job description.
Special units and elite teams are usually in charge of suspected arson cases, as they know how to analyze chemical and forensic evidence to locate the point of origin of a fire.
But even these highly trained individuals sometimes get it wrong—especially if they are working for over-zealous prosecutors who are eager to file charges after a devastating fire.
A California arson defense attorney knows how to cross-examine the prosecution's expert witnesses, to effectively challenge the charge that the fire was even the result of arson or reckless burning—let alone that you were the arsonist.
To put forth this defense, arson criminal defense lawyers typically rely on their own expert witnesses who know how to explain to a judge and jury that typical “arson indicators” such as
- crazed glass,
- melted copper wiring,
- melted steel, and
- uneven burn patterns,
aren't always a reliable way to conclude that arson was the cause of the fire at all.
When someone is killed during the perpetration (or the attempted perpetration) of arson, it is considered California first-degree murder.46
This is the case even if the killing is unintentional, as long as you intentionally committed arson. This is because of what's known as the California felony-murder rule.47
A first-degree murder conviction subjects you to
- twenty-five (25) years to life in prison,
- life in prison without the possibility of parole, or even
- the death penalty.48
Moreover, if you are convicted of first-degree murder for maliciously setting fire to an inhabited structure or inhabited property, in violation of Penal Code 451(b)—then your only two sentence options are
- life in prison without the possibility of parole, or
- the death penalty.49
The felony-murder rule is why Raymond Lee Oyler (the man convicted of arson for the 2006 Esperanza fire in Riverside County) received the California death penalty.50
Oyler—a reported serial arsonist—ignited the Esperanza wildfire in the middle of the night during a Santa Ana windstorm. The fire quickly grew out of control, killing five firefighters and destroying 34 homes.51
It should be noted that the death penalty is given very rarely in arson cases. That said, Oyler's case shows just how serious an arson conviction can be.
California burglary is defined as entering any building or property with the intent of committing a felony once you're inside.52
This means that if you enter someone else's structure intending to commit malicious arson, then prosecutors could charge you with both Penal Code 451 arson and Penal Code 459 burglary.
Burglary of an inhabited home is a felony—whereas burglary of any other structure (like an office building) is a wobbler.53
California criminal “trespass” & “trespassing” laws prohibit entering another person's property without permission to do so. Trespass is different from burglary in that it only requires that you set foot on someone else's land…not that you enter a building.54
This means that if you unlawfully enter another person's property and then either willfully OR recklessly set fire to that property, you could face charges for both arson or reckless burning and criminal trespass.
In most cases, trespass is a misdemeanor.55
As previously mentioned, you do not commit arson if you burn your own personal property—UNLESS you set that fire with the intent to commit fraud.56 This is most commonly seen in connection with insurance fraud.
If you set fire to your own home, car, or other property in order to collect money from your insurance company based on a claim for an “accidental” fire—then prosecutors could charge you with arson and insurance fraud.
Call Us for Help…
If you have additional questions about California arson laws, or you would like to discuss your case confidentially with one of our arson defense attorneys, we invite you to contact us.
We have local criminal law offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, Orange County, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities to conveniently serve you.
For information on Nevada arson laws, please see our page on Nevada arson laws.
The California Arson Hotline: 1-800-468-4408
The hotline takes anonymous reports of arson and offers rewards to those who provide information about a suspected arsonist.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
California state enforcement of arson laws.
International Association of Arson Investigators
The IAAC is a national organization supporting law enforcement officers that investigate arson and arson related crimes.
California Conference of Arson Investigators
The California Conference of Arson Investigators is an association of arson investigators with over 1000 members. It is the longest running and most active arson enforcement association of its type in the nation.
Insurance Committee for Arson Control
National network of insurance agencies working with law enforcement to combat arson in the United States.
1 Penal Code 451 PC -- Arson of structure, forest land or property; great bodily injury; inhabited structure or property; owned property; punishment [Malicious arson]. (“ person is guilty of arson when he or she willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned or who aids, counsels, or procures the burning of, any structure, forest land, or property.”)
Penal Code 452 PC -- Unlawfully causing a fire of any structure, forest land or property; great bodily injury; inhabited structure or property; punishment [Reckless arson]. (“A person is guilty of unlawfully causing a fire when he recklessly sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, any structure, forest land or property.”)
2 Penal Code 451 PC – Malicious arson. (“(d) Arson of property is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two, or three years. For purposes of this paragraph, arson of property does not include one burning or causing to be burned his or her own personal property unless there is an intent to defraud or there is injury to another person or another person's structure, forest land, or property.”)
Penal Code 452 PC – Reckless arson. (“For purposes of this paragraph, unlawfully causing a fire of property does not include one burning or causing to be burned his own personal property unless there is injury to another person or to another person's structure, forest land or property.”)
3 Penal Code 451 PC – Malicious arson. (“(a) Arson that causes great bodily injury is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for five, seven, or nine years. (b) Arson that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for three, five, or eight years. (c) Arson of a structure or forest land is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years. (d) Arson of property is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two, or three years.”)
Penal Code 452 PC – Reckless arson. (“(a) Unlawfully causing a fire that causes great bodily injury is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four or six years, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine, or by both such imprisonment and fine. (b) Unlawfully causing a fire that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine, or by both such imprisonment and fine. (c) Unlawfully causing a fire of a structure or forest land is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two or three years, or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months, or by a fine, or by both such imprisonment and fine. (d) Unlawfully causing a fire of property is a misdemeanor.”)
4 Penal Code 452 PC – Reckless arson, endnote 3, above.
5 See same.
6 Penal Code 451 PC – Malicious arson, endnote 3, above.
7 California Jury Instructions - Criminal 8.21 – Felony-murder rule. (“The unlawful killing of a human being, whether intentional, unintentional or accidental, which occurs during the commission or attempted commission of the crime of [arson] is murder of the first degree when the perpetrator had the specific intent to commit that crime.”)
8 Penal Code 451 PC – Malicious arson, endnote 1, above.
9 Penal Code 452 PC – Reckless arson, endnote 1, above.
10 Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 1515 – Simple arson. (“The defendant is charged [in Count ] with arson [in violation of Penal Code section 451(b)]. To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that: 1 The defendant set fire to or burned [or (counseled[,]/ [or] helped[,]/ [or] caused) the burning of] (a structure/forest land/property); AND 2 (He/She) acted willfully and maliciously.”)
11 See same, Simple arson. (“To set fire to or burn means to damage or destroy with fire either all or part of something, no matter how small the part.”)
12 See same, Simple arson. (“[A structure is any (building/bridge/tunnel/power plant/commercial or public tent).]”)
13 See same, Simple arson. (“[Forest land means brush-covered land, cut-over land, forest, grasslands, or woods.]”)
14 People v. Reese (1986) 182 Cal.App.3d 737, 740. (“…the different levels of punishment for the different types of property suggests a legislative intent to punish the willful and malicious burning [arson] of any personal property such as clothing, whether or not being worn at the time of the fire.”)
15 CALCRIM 1515, Simple arson. (“[Property means personal property or land other than forest land.]”)
16 In re L.T. (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 262, 264-65. (“The trash burned does constitute “property” referred to in the arson statute (§ 451). The Penal Code defines “property” to include “personal property,” which, in turn, includes “money, goods, chattels, things in action, and evidences of debt.” (§ 7, subds. 10, 12; accord, Civ. Code, § 14, subd. 3.) Trash fits within this definition. “Goods” and “chattels” are things that are “visible, tangible, movable” and are “objects of the senses.””)
17 CALCRIM 1515, Simple arson. (“[A person does not commit arson if the only thing burned is his or her own personal property, unless he or she acts with the intent to defraud, or the fire also injures someone else or someone else's structure, forest land, or property.]”)
18 See same, Simple arson. (“Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose.”)
19 See same, Simple arson. (“Someone acts maliciously when he or she intentionally does a wrongful act or when he or she acts with the unlawful intent to defraud, annoy, or injure someone else.”)
20 CALCRIM 1532 – Unlawfully causing a fire [Reckless arson/reckless burning]. (“To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that:  The defendant set fire to [,] [or] burned [,] [or caused the burning of] (a structure/forest land/property); AND  The defendant did so recklessly.”)
21 See same, Reckless arson/reckless burning. (“[A person acts recklessly when (1) he or she is aware that his or her actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire, (2) he or she ignores that risk, and (3) ignoring the risk is a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would have done in the same situation.]”)
22 People v. Budish (1982) 131 Cal.App.3d 1043, 1048. (“Assuming arguendo the small campfire was the source of the fire, the unprecedented wind force at the scene was not a factor which the defendant could have reasonably anticipated. Thus his conduct did not amount to a conscious disregard of the risk in making a small contained campfire during the early morning calm of that day. Nor could his act be characterized as a gross deviation from normal standards of conduct in satisfying a normal desire for an early morning hot drink. The defendant's negligent failure to perceive the risk did not amount to reckless conduct [and so is not reckless arson].”)
23 See Penal Code 451 PC – Malicious arson, endnote 3, above; Penal Code 452 PC – Reckless arson, endnote 3, above.
24 Penal Code 457 PC -- Order for submission to psychiatric or psychological examination. (“Upon conviction of any person for a violation of any provision of this chapter [California's arson laws], the court may order that such person, for the purpose of sentencing, submit to a psychiatric or psychological examination.”)
25 Penal Code 451 PC – Malicious arson, endnote 3, above.
26 See same.
27 Penal Code 672 PC -- Offenses for which no fine prescribed; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment. (“Upon a conviction for any crime punishable by imprisonment in any jail or prison, in relation to which no fine is herein prescribed, the court may impose a fine on the offender not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) in cases of misdemeanors or ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in cases of felonies [such as PC 451 arson], in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.”)
28 Penal Code 456 PC -- Fine upon felony conviction [for arson]; fine based upon pecuniary gain; amounts. (“ (a) Upon conviction for any felony violation of this chapter [California arson laws], in addition to the penalty prescribed, the court may impose a fine not to exceed fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) unless a greater amount is provided by law. (b) When any person is convicted of a violation of any provision of this chapter and the reason he committed the violation was for pecuniary gain, in addition to the penalty prescribed and instead of the fine provided in subdivision (a), the court may impose a fine of twice the anticipated or actual gross gain.”)
29 Penal Code 1192.7 PC – California three strikes law. (“(c) As used in this section, “serious felony” means any of the following: . . . (14) arson.”)
30 Penal Code 452 PC – Reckless arson, endnote 3, above.
See also Penal Code 19 PC. (“Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.”)
31 Penal Code 452 PC – Reckless arson, endnote 3, above.
32 See same.
33 Penal Code 452.1 PC – Aggravated arson; sentence enhancements; circumstances. (“(a) Notwithstanding any other law, any person who is convicted of a felony violation of [Penal Section] Section 452 PC [reckless arson] shall be punished by a one-, two-, or three-year enhancement for each of the following circumstances that is found to be true: (1) The defendant has been previously convicted of a felony violation of [Penal Code] Section 451 or 452. (2) A firefighter, peace officer, or other emergency personnel suffered great bodily injury as a result of the offense. The additional term provided by this subdivision shall be imposed whenever applicable, including any instance in which there is a violation of subdivision (a) of Section 452. (3) The defendant proximately caused great bodily injury to more than one victim in any single violation of Section 452. The additional term provided by this subdivision shall be imposed whenever applicable, including any instance in which there is a violation of subdivision (a) of Section 452. (4) The defendant proximately caused multiple structures to burn in any single violation of [Penal Code] Section 452 [PC “reckless arson”] (b) The additional term specified in subdivision (a) of Section 452.1 shall not be imposed unless the existence of any fact required under this section shall be alleged in the accusatory pleading and either admitted by the defendant in open court or found to be true by the trier of fact.”)
See also Penal Code 451.1 PC – Arson; sentence enhancements; circumstances. (“(a) Notwithstanding any other law, any person who is convicted of a felony violation of [Penal Code] Section 451 PC [malicious arson] shall be punished by a three-, four-, or five-year enhancement if one or more of the following circumstances is found to be true: (1) The defendant has been previously convicted of a felony violation of [Penal Code] Section 451 or 452 PC. (2) A firefighter, peace officer, or other emergency personnel suffered great bodily injury as a result of the offense. The additional term provided by this subdivision shall be imposed whenever applicable, including any instance in which there is a violation of subdivision (a) of Section 451. (3) The defendant proximately caused great bodily injury to more than one victim in any single violation of Section 451. The additional term provided by this subdivision shall be imposed whenever applicable, including any instance in which there is a violation of subdivision (a) of Section 451. (4) The defendant proximately caused multiple structures to burn in any single violation of [Penal Code] Section 451 PC [arson]. (5) The defendant committed arson as described in subdivision (a), (b), or (c) of Section 451 and the arson was caused by use of a device designed to accelerate the fire or delay ignition. (b) The additional term specified in subdivision (a) shall not be imposed unless the existence of any fact required under this section shall be alleged in the accusatory pleading and either admitted by the defendant in open court or found to be true by the trier of fact.”)
34 Penal Code 1170.78 PC – Arson; retaliation against owner or occupant; aggravation of crime. (“Upon a conviction of a violation of [Penal Code] Section 451 [PC California arson law], the fact that the person committed the offense in retaliation against the owner or occupant of the property or structure burned, or against one believed by the person to be the owner or occupant of the property or structure burned, for any eviction or other legal action taken by the owner or occupant, or believed owner or occupant, shall be a circumstance in aggravation of the crime in imposing a term under subdivision (b) of Section 1170.”)
35 Penal Code 1170.8 PC – Arson, robbery, or assault in places of worship; aggravation of crime. (“(b) Upon conviction of any person for a violation of [Penal Code] Section 451 or 453 [PC under California arson law], the fact that the person intentionally burned, or intended to burn, a church, synagogue, or building owned and occupied by a religious educational institution, or any other place primarily used as a place of worship where religious services are regularly conducted, shall be considered a circumstance in aggravation of the crime in imposing a term under subdivision (b) of [Penal Code] Section 1170.”)
36 Penal Code 451.5 PC—- Aggravated arson; factors; punishment. (“(a) Any person who willfully, maliciously, deliberately, with premeditation, and with intent to cause injury to one or more persons or to cause damage to property under circumstances likely to produce injury to one or more persons or to cause damage to one or more structures or inhabited dwellings, sets fire to, burns, or causes to be burned, or aids, counsels, or procures the burning of any residence, structure, forest land, or property is guilty of aggravated arson if one or more of the following aggravating factors exists: (1) The defendant has been previously convicted of arson on one or more occasions within the past 10 years. (2)(A) The fire caused property damage and other losses in excess of five million six hundred fifty thousand dollars ($5,650,000). (B) In calculating the total amount of property damage and other losses under subparagraph (A), the court shall consider the cost of fire suppression. It is the intent of the Legislature that this paragraph be reviewed within five years to consider the effects of inflation on the dollar amount stated herein. For that reason, this paragraph shall remain in effect until January 1, 2010, and as of that date is repealed, unless a later enacted statute, which is enacted before January 1, 2010, deletes or extends that date. (3) The fire caused damage to, or the destruction of, five or more inhabited structures. (b) Any person who is convicted under subdivision (a) shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for 10 years to life. (c) Any person who is sentenced under subdivision (b) shall not be eligible for release on parole until 10 calendar years have elapsed.”)
37 Penal Code 457.1 PC -- Arson and attempted arson; persons convicted of arson; registration while residing California [Registration after arson conviction]. (“(a) As used in this section, “arson” means a violation of Section 451, 451.5, or 453, and attempted arson, which includes, but is not limited to, a violation of Section 455. (b)(1) Every person described in paragraph (2), (3), and (4), for the periods specified therein, shall, while residing in, or if the person has no residence, while located in California, be required to, within 14 days of coming into, or changing the person's residence or location within any city, county, city and county, or campus wherein the person temporarily resides, or if the person has no residence, is located: (A) Register with the chief of police of the city where the person is residing, or if the person has no residence, where the person is located. (B) Register with the sheriff of the county where the person is residing, or if the person has no residence, where the person is located in an unincorporated area or city that has no police department. (C) In addition to (A) or (B) above, register with the chief of police of a campus of the University of California, the California State University, or community college where the person is residing, or if the person has no residence, where the person is located upon the campus or any of its facilities. (2) Any person who, on or after November 30, 1994, is convicted in any court in this state of arson or attempted arson shall be required to register, in accordance with the provisions of this section, for the rest of his or her life. (3) Any person who, having committed the offense of arson or attempted arson, and after having been adjudicated a ward of the juvenile court on or after January 1, 1993, is discharged or paroled from the Department of the Youth Authority shall be required to register, in accordance with the provisions of this section, until that person attains the age of 25 years, or until the person has his or her records sealed pursuant to Section 781 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, whichever comes first. (4) Any person convicted of the offense of arson or attempted arson on or after January 1, 1985, through November 29, 1994, inclusive, in any court of this state, shall be required to register, in accordance with the provisions of this section, for a period of five years commencing, in the case where the person was confined for the offense, from the date of their release from confinement, or in the case where the person was not confined for the offense, from the date of sentencing or discharge, if that person was ordered by the court at the time that person was sentenced to register as an arson offender. The law enforcement agencies shall make registration information available to the chief fire official of a legally organized fire department or fire protection district having local jurisdiction where the person resides.”)
38 See same, Registration after arson conviction.
39 See same, Registration after arson conviction.
40 See same, Registration after arson conviction. (“(h) Any person required to register under this section who violates any of the provisions thereof is guilty of a misdemeanor. Any person who has been convicted of arson or attempted arson and who is required to register under this section who willfully violates any of the provisions thereof is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be sentenced to serve a term of not less than 90 days nor more than one year in a county jail. In no event does the court have the power to absolve a person who willfully violates this section from the obligation of spending at least 90 days of confinement in a county jail and of completing probation of at least one year.”)
41 See same, Registration after arson conviction. (“(l) Nothing in this section shall be construed to conflict with Section 1203.4 concerning termination of probation and release from penalties and disabilities of probation. A person required to register [as an arson offender] under this section may initiate a proceeding under Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 4852.01) of Title 6 of Part 3 and, upon obtaining a certificate of rehabilitation, shall be relieved of any further duty to register under this section. This certificate shall not relieve the petitioner of the duty to register under this section for any offense subject to this section of which he or she is convicted in the future.”)
42 CALCRIM 1515, Simple arson, endnote 10, above; CALCRIM 1532 – Unlawfully causing a fire [Reckless arson/reckless burning], endnote 20, above.
43 San Bernardino criminal defense attorney Michael Scafiddi represents clients accused of California arson and reckless burning charges, as well as other criminal offenses, in San Bernardino and Riverside County courthouses, including the Murrieta Southwest Justice Center and courthouses in Fontana, Banning, Barstow, Palm Springs, and Joshua Tree.
44 CALCRIM 1532 – Unlawfully causing a fire [Reckless arson/reckless burning]. (“[A person acts recklessly when (1) he or she does an act that presents a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire but (2) he or she is unaware of the risk because he or she is voluntarily intoxicated. Intoxication is voluntary if the person willingly used any intoxicating drink, drug, or other substance knowing that it could produce an intoxicating effect.]”)
45 See, e.g., CALCRIM 224 – Circumstantial Evidence: Sufficiency of Evidence. ("Before you may rely on circumstantial evidence to conclude that a fact necessary to find the defendant guilty has been proved, you must be convinced that the People have proved each fact essential to that conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt.")
46 Penal Code 189 PC – Murder; degrees. (“All murder . . . which is committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, arson . . . is murder of the first degree.”)
47 California Jury Instructions - Criminal 8.21 – Felony-murder rule, endnote 7, above.
48 Penal Code 190 PC – Punishment for murder. (“(a) Every person guilty of murder in the first degree [including murder committed through arson] shall be punished by death, imprisonment in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole, or imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 25 years to life.”)
49 Penal Code 190.2 PC – Death penalty or life imprisonment without parole; special circumstances. (“(a) The penalty for a defendant who is found guilty of murder in the first degree is death or imprisonment in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole if one or more of the following special circumstances has been found under [Penal Code] Section 190.4 to be true: . . . (17) The murder was committed while the defendant was engaged in, or was an accomplice in, the commission of, attempted commission of, or the immediate flight after committing, or attempting to commit, the following felonies: . . . (H) Arson in violation of subdivision (b) of [Penal Code] Section 451.”)
50 See Raymond Lee Oyler sentenced to death for starting Esperanza fire [arson case], Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2009.
51 See same.
52 Penal Code 459 PC – Burglary, defined. (“Every person who enters any house, room, apartment, tenement, shop, warehouse, store, mill, barn, stable, outhouse or other building, tent, vessel, as defined in Section 21 of the Harbors and Navigation Code, floating home, as defined in subdivision (d) of Section 18075.55 of the Health and Safety Code, railroad car, locked or sealed cargo container, whether or not mounted on a vehicle, trailer coach, as defined in Section 635 of the Vehicle Code, any house car, as defined in Section 362 of the Vehicle Code, inhabited camper, as defined in Section 243 of the Vehicle Code, vehicle as defined by the Vehicle Code, when the doors are locked, aircraft as defined by Section 21012 of the Public Utilities Code, or mine or any underground portion thereof, with intent to commit grand or petit larceny or any felony [including California felony arson] is guilty of burglary.”)
53 See Penal Code 460 PC; Penal Code 461 PC.
54 Penal Code 602 PC – Criminal trespass [may be charged along with arson]. ("Except as provided in paragraph (2) of subdivision (v), subdivision (x), and Section 602.8, every person who willfully commits a trespass by any of the following acts is guilty of a misdemeanor: . . . (k) Entering any lands, whether unenclosed or enclosed by fence, for the purpose of injuring any property or property rights or with the intention of interfering with, obstructing, or injuring any lawful business or occupation carried on by the owner of the land, the owner's agent or by the person in lawful possession.”)
55 See same, Criminal trespass [may be charged along with arson].
56 Penal Code 451 PC – Malicious arson, subsection (d), endnote 2, above.