Nevada "Arson" Laws (NRS 205.010)
(Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys)

Nevada prohibits "arson" in Nevada, which is intentionally setting property on fire.

NRS 205.005 reads : “Any person shall be deemed to have “set fire to” a building, structure or any property...whenever any part thereof or anything therein shall be scorched, charred or burned.”

Nevada arson cases often stem allegations that the defendant deliberately burned property in an effort to collect on insurance. The recognizes four different "degrees" of arson with "first degree" carrying the harshest penalties and "fourth degree" carrying the laxest.1

Examples

Typical arson scenarios in Nevada are:

  • Burning a car or motorcycle to make a claim for automobile insurance
  • Setting an ex's home or yard on fire out of revenge
  • Setting fire to an government building or vehicle out of protest
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Arson is a felony in Nevada.

Penalties

Arson is prosecuted as a felony in Nevada. The sentencing range depends on the degree of arson the defendant is convicted of.

  1. First degree arson: 2 - 15 years in Nevada State Prison and up to $15,000 plus costs
  2. Second degree arson: 1 - 10 years in Nevada State Prison and up to $10,000 plus costs
  3. Third degree arson: 1 - 4 years in Nevada State Prison and up to $5,000 plus costs
  4. Fourth degree arson: 1 -4 years in Nevada State Prison and up to $5,000

Legal Defenses

Common defenses to Nevada arson charges include:

  • accident (lack of intent)
  • natural disasters
  • lack of evidence

In this article our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers answer frequently-asked-questions about Nevada arson laws. Scroll down for the definition, defenses, and penalties about the Nevada offense of arson.

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Many Nevada arson charges ensue from allegations that the defendant was trying to collect on insurance.

1. Definition of Arson in Nevada

The legal definition of arson in Nevada is when a person "willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, or who aids, counsels or procures the burning of any" real estate, buildings, mobile homes, vehicles, or other personal property. In short, arson is intentionally setting fire to land, buildings, vehicles, or personal property.

Note that a person can be convicted of arson in Nevada whether he/she was physically present at the fire or was at a distance helping to carry out the fire. North Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse gives an example:

Example: Russell wants to burn down his ex-girlfriend's Henderson house for cheating on him. Russell then pays a friend to drive there and throw a lit cigarette into her backyard, which sparks a fire that damages the home. If caught, Russell could be arrested and booked at the Henderson Detention Center for orchestrating the burning of his ex's home. (Obviously, Russell's friend could also be charged with arson for helping Russell allegedly commit arson.)

Also note that Nevada arson law does not apply to innocent accidents where a person unintentionally starts a fire. However, deliberately starting a lawful fire that then proceeds to burn nearby property may amount to arson if the fire spreading was reasonably foreseeable. (NRS 205.045)

Types of Arson and Penalties in Nevada

The Nevada crime of arson is divided into four sub-crimes, or "degrees." Each degree comprises a specific type of property and carries its own penalties. And defendants face an additional charge and penalties under NRS 205.030 if the alleged arson was done to defraud insurers.

Degree of arson

Definition

Class of crime

Penalties*

First-degree arson

Willfully or maliciously setting fire to (or helping to set fire to):

- Any building, house or mobile home whether occupied or not, or

- Personal property that is occupied by one or more person

Category B felony

- 2 to 15 years in Nevada State Prison

- Maybe up to $15,000^

Second-degree arson

Willfully or maliciously setting fire to (or helping to set fire to):

- Any abandoned building or structure

Category B felony

- 1 to 10 years in Nevada State Prison

- Maybe up to $10,000^

Third-degree arson

Willfully or maliciously setting fire to (or helping to set fire to):

- Any unoccupied personal property of another which has a value of $25 or more,

- Any unoccupied personal property owned by the suspect but where another person has a legal interest, or

- Any timber, forest, shrubbery, crops, grass, vegetation or flammable material not belonging to the suspect

Category D felony

- 1 to 4 years in Nevada State Prison

- Maybe up to $5,000^

Fourth-degree arson

Willfully or maliciously attempting to set fire to any of the property listed under first-, second- or third-degree arson in Nevada.

Category D felony

- 1 to 4 years in Nevada State Prison

- Maybe up to $5,000 and maybe an additional fine of up to $5,000

* Committing (or attempting to commit) arson with the intent to defraud an insurer is an additional Category B charge. Penalties include 1 to 6 years in Nevada State Prison, Nevada restitution payments, and maybe a fine of up to $5,000.

^ Additional possible reimbursement for putting out the fire and investigating the incident and other related costs.

TYPE OF ARSON

PENALTIES*

 

First-degree arson

Willfully or maliciously setting fire to (or helping to set fire to):

- Any building, house or mobile home whether occupied or not, or

- Personal property that is occupied by one or more person

Category B felony

- 2 to 15 years in Nevada State Prison

- Maybe up to $15,000^

Second-degree arson

Willfully or maliciously setting fire to (or helping to set fire to):

- Any abandoned building or structure

Category B felony

- 1 to 10 years in Nevada State Prison

- Maybe up to $10,000^

Third-degree arson

Willfully or maliciously setting fire to (or helping to set fire to):

- Any unoccupied personal property of another which has a value of $25 or more,

- Any unoccupied personal property owned by the suspect but where another person has a legal interest, or

- Any timber, forest, shrubbery, crops, grass, vegetation or flammable material not belonging to the suspect

Category D felony

- 1 to 4 years in Nevada State Prison

- Maybe up to $5,000^

Fourth-degree arson

Willfully or maliciously attempting to set fire to any of the property listed under first-, second- or third-degree arson in Nevada.

Category D felony

- 1 to 4 years in Nevada State Prison

- Maybe up to $5,000 and maybe an additional fine of up to $5,000

* Committing (or attempting to commit) arson with the intent to defraud an insurer is an additional Category B charge. Penalties include 1 to 6 years in Nevada State Prison, Nevada restitution payments, and maybe a fine of up to $5,000.

^ Additional possible reimbursement for putting out the fire and investigating the incident and other related costs.

1.1 First degree Arson in Nevada (NRS 205.010)

The Nevada crime of first-degree arson is willfully or maliciously setting fire to (or helping to set fire to):

  • Any building, house or mobile home whether occupied or not, or

  • Personal property that is occupied by one or more person.

It makes no different whether the suspect owns the property.

Arson in the first degree is a category B felony in Nevada carrying 2 to 15 years in prison and maybe a fine of up to $15,000. Additional costs may include reimbursement for putting out the fire and investigating the incident and other related costs.

If the 1st degree arson suspect is also convicted in Nevada of committing (or attempting to commit) arson with the intent to defraud an insurer, he/she faces additional category B penalties. This includes a sentence of 1 to 6 years in prison, Nevada restitution payments, and maybe a fine of up to $5,000.2

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Arson in Nevada is subdivided into four degrees. First degree arson is the most serious, fourth-degree is the least serious.

1.2 Second degree Arson in Nevada (NRS 205.015)

The Nevada crime of second-degree arson is willfully or maliciously setting fire to (or helping to set fire to):

  • Any abandoned building or structure, whether or not the property belongs to the suspect.

Arson in the second degree is a category felony B felony in Nevada carrying 1 to 10 years in prison and maybe a fine of up to $10,000. The judge can also order reimbursement for the costs of putting out the fire, investigating the case and other related expenses.

If the 2nd degree arson suspect is also convicted in Nevada of committing (or attempting to commit) arson with the intent to defraud an insurer, he/she faces additional category B penalties. This includes a sentence of 1 to 6 years in prison, Nevada restitution payments, and maybe a fine of up to $5,000.3

1.3 Third degree Arson in Nevada (NRS 205.020)

The Nevada crime of third-degree arson is willfully or maliciously setting fire to (or helping to set fire to):

  • Any unoccupied personal property of another which has a value of $25 or more,
  • Any unoccupied personal property owned by the suspect but where another person has a legal interest, or
  • Any timber, forest, shrubbery, crops, grass, vegetation or flammable material not belonging to the suspect.

Arson in the third degree is a category D felony in Nevada carrying 1 to 4 years in prison and maybe a fine of up to $5,000. The suspect also faces reimbursement fines for extinguishing the fire and any related costs.

If the 3rd degree arson suspect is also convicted in Nevada of committing (or attempting to commit) arson with the intent to defraud an insurer, he/she faces additional category B penalties. This includes a sentence of 1 to 6 years in prison, Nevada restitution payments, and maybe a fine of up to $5,000.4

1.4 Fourth degree Arson in Nevada (NRS 205.025; NRS 205.055)

The Nevada crime of fourth-degree arson is willfully or maliciously attempting to set fire to any of the property listed under first-, second- or third-degree arson in Nevada. In short, fourth-degree arson is "attempted arson." So a suspect who is caught allegedly in the preparatory stages to commit arson or who tried and failed to complete the act of arson faces fourth-degree arson charges. Henderson criminal defense attorney Michael Becker provides an illustration:

Example: Julia wants to destroy her car in order to collect car insurance money. She drives her car out to a remote field in Pahrump and fills it with flammable material and a device that will allow her to ignite it remotely. Later Julia has a change of heart. But before she can retrieve the car, the police find it and book her at the Nye County Detention Center on fourth degree arson. Even though Julie decided not to go through with the arson, Nevada law allows courts to presume that she intended to commit arson by virtue of having placed the flammable material in her car. So just giving the appearance of intending to commit arson is sufficient to invite fourth degree arson charges.

Arson in the fourth degree is a category D felony in Nevada carrying 1 to 4 years in prison and maybe a fine of up to $5,000.

If the 4th degree arson suspect is also convicted in Nevada of committing (or attempting to commit) arson with the intent to defraud an insurer, he/she faces additional category B penalties of 1 to 6 years in prison, Nevada restitution payments, and maybe a fine of up to $5,000.5

1.5 Plea bargains, negotiations, and dismissals for arson in Nevada

Depending on the case and available evidence, Nevada arson charges may be able to be reduced or dismissed. In some cases, the prosecutor may have enough evidence to prove that the defendant started a fire but no evidence that the defendant did so willfully and maliciously. In this situation, the prosecutor may agree to let the defendant take a plea bargain to the lesser Nevada crime of "reckless endangerment" instead of arson...

If no death or injury occurred, this kind of reckless burning is only a gross misdemeanor in Nevada carrying up to 364 days in jail and/or up to $2,000 in fines. But if someone did die or get seriously hurt, it is a category C felony in Nevada with a sentence of 1 to 5 years in prison and perhaps an additional fine of $10,000. 6

If the prosecution does not agree to reduce or dismiss an arson charge in Nevada, the defendant then has the option of taking the case to trial. At trial, the prosecution bears the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed arson. If the defendant is found not guilty, he/she faces no punishment. If he/she is found guilty, the judge may hand down a harsher penalty than anything the prosecutor offered during plea bargain negotiations.

2. Defenses to Arson in Nevada

Nevada arson charges lend themselves to several effective defenses a defense attorney may be able to use to try to get the defendant's case lessened to a minor charge or completely thrown out. Three common arson defenses are described below:

2.1 Lack of intent can win a Nevada arson case

Arson is a "specific intent" crime in Nevada, which means that prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect acted willfully and maliciously. So if the criminal defense attorney can show that the suspect behaved merely recklessly or negligently, he/she should not be convicted of arson.

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Natural disasters can be a defense to Nevada arson charges.

2.2 Natural disasters can win a Nevada arson case

The dry heat in Clark County and throughout Nevada is prone to cause wildfires at no fault of anyone. So if a defense attorney can raise a reasonable argument that the fire in question ensued from Mother Nature and not man, then the arson case could be dismissed.

2.3 Lack of evidence can win a Nevada arson case

Prosecutors may have trouble compiling sufficient evidence to convict since fires may burn up much of the incriminating clues. So if the defense attorney can show there is simply not enough evidence to link the suspect to the fire, an arson charge cannot stand.7

3. What other crimes may be charged with arson in Nevada?

Acts of arson often involve breaking other Nevada laws regarding insurance, property, or theft. The following are Nevada offenses that are frequently charged alongside arson:

3.1 Nevada crime of insurance fraud (NRS 205.030)

Committing (or attempting to commit) arson in Nevada with the intent to defraud an insurer is a category B felony carrying 1 to 6 years in prison, Nevada restitution payments, and maybe a fine of up to $5,000.8

3.2 Nevada crime of felony murder (NRS 200.030)

The The Nevada crime of felony murder with arson occurs when an act of arson (or attempted arson) causes somebody's death. The felony-murder rule permits an arson suspect to be prosecuted for first-degree murder even if he/she had no intention of hurting anyone. First-degree murder in Nevada may carry the death penalty, life in prison with or without the possibility of parole, or 50 years in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years. 9

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A person who enters a home to set it on fire could be charged with both arson and burglary in Nevada.

3.3 Nevada crime of burglary (NRS 205.060)

The Nevada crime of burglary is defined as entering any structure or vehicle with the intent to commit a felony (such as arson) inside. So even if an arson never takes place, someone may be charged with burglary and arson just for entering a structure and having prepared to set a fire inside. 10

3.4 Nevada crime of trespass (NRS 207.200)

The Nevada crime of trespass occurs when someone goes on another person's property without permission or with intent to commit a crime there. Similar to burglary, a person may be slapped with trespass and arson charges for being on someone else's property and having planned to commit arson there irrespective of whether the fire is ever set. 11

3.5 Nevada crime of looting

The Nevada crime of looting typically occurs during emergency situations at night at stores when no employees are present. Often rioters face charges for both arson and looting if they steal from a business and then set fire to it. Penalties depend on how much the suspect allegedly stole.

Arrested in Nevada? Call our Las Vegas arson attorneys . . .

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Call 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a FREE consultation right now with a Nevada criminal defense attorney.

If you are facing arson charges in Nevada, call our Las Vegas arson defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation. Our legal team will do everything we can in an effort to get your case dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense. And if the situation calls for it, we are prepared to fight for a "not guilty" verdict at trial.

For information about California arson laws, refer to our article on California arson laws.


Legal References:

  1. NRS 205.005  “Set fire to” defined.  Any person shall be deemed to have “set fire to” a building, structure or any property mentioned in NRS 205.010 to 205.030, inclusive, whenever any part thereof or anything therein shall be scorched, charred or burned.
  2. NRS 205.010  First degree.  A person who willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, or who aids, counsels or procures the burning of any:

    1.  Dwelling house or other structure or mobile home, whether occupied or vacant; or

    2.  Personal property which is occupied by one or more persons,

    -> whether the property of the person or of another, is guilty of arson in the first degree which is a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $15,000. NRS 205.050   Ownership of building.  To constitute arson it shall not be necessary that another person than the defendant should have had ownership in the building or structure set on fire. NRS 205.045   Contiguous fires.  Whenever any building or structure which may be the subject of arson in either the first or second degree shall be so situated as to be manifestly endangered by any fire and shall subsequently be set on fire thereby, any person participating in setting such fire shall be deemed to have participated in setting such building or structure on fire.

  3. NRS 205.015  Second degree.  A person who willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, or who aids, counsels or procures the burning of any abandoned building or structure, whether the property of the person or of another, is guilty of arson in the second degree which is a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 10 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $10,000.
  4. NRS 205.020  Third degree.  A person who willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned, or who aids, counsels or procures the burning of:

    1.  Any unoccupied personal property of another which has the value of $25 or more;

    2.  Any unoccupied personal property owned by him or her in which another person has a legal interest; or

    3.  Any timber, forest, shrubbery, crops, grass, vegetation or other flammable material not his or her own,

    -> is guilty of arson in the third degree which is a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.

  5. NRS 205.025  Fourth degree.

    1.  A person who willfully and maliciously attempts to set fire to or attempts to burn or to aid, counsel or procure the burning of any of the buildings or property mentioned in NRS 205.010, 205.015 and 205.020, or who commits any act preliminary thereto or in furtherance thereof, is guilty of arson in the fourth degree which is a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $5,000.

    2.  In any prosecution under this section the placing or distributing of any inflammable, explosive or combustible material or substance, or any device in any building or property mentioned in NRS 205.010, 205.015 and 205.020, in an arrangement or preparation eventually to set fire to or burn the building or property, or to procure the setting fire to or burning of the building or property, is prima facie evidence of a willful attempt to burn or set on fire the property. NRS 205.055   Preparation is attempt to commit arson.  Any willful preparation made by any person with a view to setting fire to any building or structure shall be deemed to be an attempt to commit the crime of arson, and shall be punished as such.

    NRS 205.030   Burning or aiding and abetting burning of property with intent to defraud insurer; penalty.  A person who willfully and with the intent to injure or defraud the insurer sets fire to or burns or attempts to set fire to or burn, or who causes to be burned or who aids, counsels or procures the burning of any building, structure or personal property of whatsoever class or character, whether the property of the person or of another, which is at the time insured by any person, company or corporation against loss or damage by fire, is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 6 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $5,000. In addition to any other penalty, the court shall order the person to pay restitution.

    NRS 205.030   Burning or aiding and abetting burning of property with intent to defraud insurer; penalty.  A person who willfully and with the intent to injure or defraud the insurer sets fire to or burns or attempts to set fire to or burn, or who causes to be burned or who aids, counsels or procures the burning of any building, structure or personal property of whatsoever class or character, whether the property of the person or of another, which is at the time insured by any person, company or corporation against loss or damage by fire, is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 6 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $5,000. In addition to any other penalty, the court shall order the person to pay restitution.

    NRS 205.034  Additional penalties.  The court may, in addition to imposing the penalties set forth in NRS 205.010, 205.015, 205.020, 205.025 or 205.030, order the person to pay: 1.  Court costs 2.  The costs of providing police and fire services related to the crime; or 3.  The costs of the investigation and prosecution of the crime -> or any combination of subsections 1, 2 and 3.

  6. NRS 202.595  Performance of act or neglect of duty in willful or wanton disregard of safety of persons or property; penalty.  Unless a greater penalty is otherwise provided by statute and except under the circumstances described in NRS 484B.653, a person who performs any act or neglects any duty imposed by law in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property shall be punished:

    1.  If the act or neglect does not result in the substantial bodily harm or death of a person, for a gross misdemeanor.

    2.  If the act or neglect results in the substantial bodily harm or death of a person, for a category C felony as provided in NRS 193.130.

  7. Batt v. State, 901 P.2d 664, 111 Nev. 1127 (1995).
  8. NRS 205.030
  9. NRS 200.030 Degrees of murder; penalties.

    1.Murder of the first degree is murder which is:

    (a) Perpetrated by means of poison, lying in wait or torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing;

    (b) Committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of sexual assault, kidnapping, arson, robbery, burglary, invasion of the home, sexual abuse of a child, sexual molestation of a child under the age of 14 years, child abuse or abuse of an older person or vulnerable person pursuant to NRS 200.5099;

    (c) Committed to avoid or prevent the lawful arrest of any person by a peace officer or to effect the escape of any person from legal custody;

    (d) Committed on the property of a public or private school, at an activity sponsored by a public or private school or on a school bus while the bus was engaged in its official duties by a person who intended to create a great risk of death or substantial bodily harm to more than one person by means of a weapon, device or course of action that would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person; or

    (e) Committed in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of an act of terrorism.

  10. NRS 205.060Burglary: Definition; penalties; venue; exception.

    1.  Except as otherwise provided in subsection 5, a person who, by day or night, enters any house, room, apartment, tenement, shop, warehouse, store, mill, barn, stable, outhouse or other building, tent, vessel, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer or house trailer, airplane, glider, boat or railroad car, with the intent to commit grand or petit larceny, assault or battery on any person or any felony, or to obtain money or property by false pretenses, is guilty of burglary.

    2.  Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person convicted of burglary is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 10 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $10,000. A person who is convicted of burglary and who has previously been convicted of burglary or another crime involving the forcible entry or invasion of a dwelling must not be released on probation or granted a suspension of sentence.

    3.  Whenever a burglary is committed on a vessel, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer, house trailer, airplane, glider, boat or railroad car, in motion or in rest, in this State, and it cannot with reasonable certainty be ascertained in what county the crime was committed, the offender may be arrested and tried in any county through which the vessel, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer, house trailer, airplane, glider, boat or railroad car traveled during the time the burglary was committed.

    4.  A person convicted of burglary who has in his or her possession or gains possession of any firearm or deadly weapon at any time during the commission of the crime, at any time before leaving the structure or upon leaving the structure, is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 15 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $10,000.

    5.  The crime of burglary does not include the act of entering a commercial establishment during business hours with the intent to commit petit larceny unless the person has previously been convicted:

    (a) Two or more times for committing petit larceny within the immediately preceding 7 years; or

    (b) Of a felony.

  11. NRS 207.200Unlawful trespass upon land; warning against trespassing.

    1.  Unless a greater penalty is provided pursuant to NRS 200.603, any person who, under circumstances not amounting to a burglary:

    (a) Goes upon the land or into any building of another with intent to vex or annoy the owner or occupant thereof, or to commit any unlawful act; or

    (b) Willfully goes or remains upon any land or in any building after having been warned by the owner or occupant thereof not to trespass, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

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