Penal Code 452 PC - Reckless Burning

3 Things to Know About “Reckless Burning” in California

Penal Code 452 PC – California’s reckless burning law – is made a crime under the Arson laws, and is basically a less serious form of Arson. In this video, former Los Angeles prosecutor and California criminal defense lawyer Neil Shouse discusses 3 important facts to know about the California laws for reckless burning, under Penal Code 452. Under penal code 425, it is a crime to recklessly burn any structure, forest land, or property. The word recklessly is defined under California law, and specifically means that the person who set the fire, knew that their actions had the potential to cause harm, they ignored that risk, and in doing so, made an effort to disregarded what should have been a reasonably obvious danger. California treats reckless burning very seriously, it can be either a misdemeanor or felony, based on the details of what has been burned, and whether anyone has been injured. Basic reckless burning of property is normally a misdemeanor with up to 1 year in jail. But if a structure or forest land is burned, or someone suffers great bodily harm because of the reckless burning, then it can be charged as a felony, with up to 6 years in state prison. Even though penal code 452 is taken very seriously in California, there are times when people are wrongfully accused of this crime. For instance a person may have accidentally set the fire, and did not act reckless. Police may have also violated a person’s constitutional rights during search and seizure, and therefore the evidence may be thrown out by a judge, and the charges may be dismissed. More info at https://www.shouselaw.com/arson/reckless-burning or call (888) 327-4652 for a free consultation. If you or a loved one is charged with a crime we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.


Penal Code 452 PC
is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to recklessly set fire to or burn any:

  • structure,
  • forest land, or
  • property.

In particular, the statute states:

“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.”

Note that PC 452 is one of two California arson laws. The other is Penal Code 451, malicious arson.

Examples of illegal acts under this statute are:

  • while camping, Miquel throws a burning cigarette into a dry bush.
  • Kelly lights a match next to highly flammable materials, thereby creating an explosion and fire.
  • Devon burns his company's business files immediately next to his neighbor's home, which ultimately causes the neighbor's house to catch on fire.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a defendant can raise if accused under PC 452. These include showing that the defendant:

Penalties

Basic reckless burning of personal property under PC 452 is a misdemeanor. The potential penalties are:

  • imprisonment in a county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.

But if reckless burning results in a burned structure or forestland, or if it causes great bodily injury, then the crime becomes a wobbler offense. This means that it may be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

The potential sentences when reckless arson is a wobbler are:

  • for reckless burning of a structure or forest land, up to six months in county jail (misdemeanor sentence), or sixteen months, two years or three years in state prison (felony sentence);1
  • for reckless burning of an inhabited structure or inhabited property, up to one year in county jail (misdemeanor sentence), or two, three or four years in state prison (felony sentence);2 and
  • for reckless burning that causes great bodily injury, up to one year in county jail (misdemeanor sentence), or two, four or six years in state prison (felony sentence).

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

reckless fire
Penal Code 452 PC makes it a crime to recklessly set fire

1. What is the legal definition of reckless burning under Penal Code 452?

Penal Code 452 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to recklessly set fire to or burn any:

  • structure,
  • forest land, or
  • property.3

A person acts “recklessly” if:

  1. he is aware that his actions could present a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing a fire,
  2. he ignores that risk, and
  3. doing so is a gross deviation from how a reasonable person would act in the same situation.4

“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.

2. Are there legal defenses to PC 452 violations?

A person can try to challenge a PC 452 accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense may work to reduce or even dismiss a charge.

Three common defenses to Penal Code 452 charges include:

  1. not reckless
  2. falsely accused, and/or
  3. no probable cause.

2.1. Not reckless

Please recall that a defendant can only be convicted of a PC 452 charge if he acted “recklessly.” This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that his actions were not reckless. Perhaps, for example, he started a fire by accident.

2.2. Falsely accused

Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon for people to get prosecuted based on false allegations. People get falsely accused out of

  • jealousy,
  • revenge, and
  • anger.

Thus, it is a valid defense for a defendant to say that a party falsely accused him of violating Penal Code 452.

2.3. No probable cause

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that police must have probable cause before they can detain or arrest a suspect of a crime.

If a person was stopped or arrested for violating PC 452, and there was no probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.

man behind bars
A violation of this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. Penalties, punishment, and sentencing

Basic reckless burning of personal property under PC 452 is a misdemeanor.5 The potential penalties are:

  • imprisonment in a county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.6

If reckless burning results in a burned structure or forestland, or if it causes great bodily injury, then the crime becomes a wobbler offense. This means that it may be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or felony.

The potential sentences when reckless arson is a wobbler are:

  • for reckless burning of a structure or forest land, up to six months in county jail (misdemeanor sentence), or sixteen months, two years or three years in state prison (felony sentence);7
  • for reckless burning of an inhabited structure or inhabited property, up to one year in county jail (misdemeanor sentence), or two, three or four years in state prison (felony sentence);8 and
  • for reckless burning that causes great bodily injury, up to one year in county jail (misdemeanor sentence), or two, four or six years in state prison (felony sentence).9

4. Related offenses

There are three laws related to reckless burning. These are:

  1. malicious arson – PC 451,
  2. trespass – PC 602, and
  3. bribery.

4.1. Malicious arson – PC 451

Penal Code 451 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to maliciously set fire to, or burn, any structure, forest land, or property.10

A person acts “maliciously" if he intentionally commits a wrongful act, or when he does something with the unlawful intent to:

  • defraud,
  • annoy, or
  • injure

someone else.11

PC 451 violations are always charged as felonies in California. The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the California state prison for up to nine years, and/or
  • a fine of up to $10,000.12

4.2. Trespass – PC 602

Penal Code 602 is the California statute that defines the crime of criminal trespass. A person commits the offense when he enters, or remains on, someone else's property without permission or a right to do so.13

In most cases, California trespass is a misdemeanor. This means it can lead to penalties of:

  • up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.14

4.3. Bribery

Bribery is a crime in California. The offense is defined as an effort to corruptly influence, by way of money or gift, a public official in the course of that official's work.

California has several bribery laws, including:

Except in certain situations, bribery is a felony. If convicted, a defendant can be sentenced to California state prison for between two and four years.

Were you accused of reckless burning in California? Call us for help…

california criminal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, per Penal Code 452, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 452c PC.

  2. California Penal Code 452b PC.

  3. California Penal Code 452 PC. This code section states: 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.”

  4. CALCRIM 1532 – Unlawfully causing a fire [Reckless arson/reckless burning]. See also In re Stonewall F. (1989), 208 Cal. App. 3d 1054.

  5. California Penal Code 452d PC.

  6. California Penal Code 19 PC.

  7. California Penal Code 452c PC.

  8. California Penal Code 452b PC.

  9. California Penal Code 452a PC.

  10. California Penal Code 451 PC.

  11. CALCRIM 1515, Simple arson.

  12. California Penal Code 451 PC.

  13. California Penal Code 602 PC.

  14. See same.

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