Arson can seem like a simple enough crime: someone guilty of arson knowingly started a fire and has to face charges for it. As with many criminal offenses, however, the reality is a bit more complicated. The charges and punishment resulting from arson can be highly dependent on the severity of the arson.

Charges of first degree arson are usually only given when someone is injured or killed in the fire. In cases where someone is killed in the fire, murder charges can be added as well. First degree murder charges are only likely if it can be demonstrated that the accused arsonist used the fire as a method of premeditated homicide. Even if no first degree murder charges are issued, the legal consequences of any murder or manslaughter conviction are of course severe.

The lesser charge of second degree arson involves significant property damage, but no injuries or deaths. Although not as severe as first degree arson, second degree arson is nonetheless a felony. What constitutes “significant damage” depends on the jurisdiction and circumstances, but burning a house to its foundation, for example, would always be significant.

Ordinarily arson is treated as a felony offense, but in some cases it can be a misdemeanor. If the extent of the fire damage is limited, it is possible to get charges of felony arson decreased to misdemeanor arson. In some cases, the “arson” might not even be prosecuted as arson at all, but rather as destruction of property or criminal mischief. Arson charges of any severity can be made worse by the addition of breaking and entering or burglary charges.

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If you have been charged with arson, a criminal defense lawyer can help you protect your rights. The Champaign criminal defense lawyers of Bruno Law Offices have the experience your case deserves. For more information and a free consultation, contact the attorneys of Bruno Law Offices today at (217) 328-6000.