The Three Degrees of Arson

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Whether a house fire or a wildfire, fires are either accidentally or intentionally set and as with every fire, people’s lives and property are at risk. Accidents happen; however, if someone intentionally sets a fire he or she could be charged with arson. In the state of Georgia, the crime of arson is considered a serious offense with harsh punishments—including a prison stay up to 20 years if convicted of first-degree arson. That’s why if you’ve been accused of or are a suspect in an arson investigation, we strongly encourage you to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can help you devise the best possible defense for your case or possibly get the charges against you dismissed. Let Bixon Law put our years of experience to work for you.

Arson in Georgia

In Georgia, the offense of arson is broken down into three separate degrees: first-degree arson, second-degree arson and third-degree arson. O.C.G.A. 16-7-60 states:

First-Degree Arson

First-degree arson is when a person, by fire or explosive, knowingly damages or causes, aids, advises, or procures another to damage:

  • An occupied or unoccupied dwelling or structure designed for use as a dwelling that either belongs to another or another has a security interest in;
  • An occupied or unoccupied dwelling, building, or vehicle when it’s insured against loss or damage by fire or explosive;
  • An occupied or unoccupied dwelling, building, or vehicle with the intent to defeat, prejudice, or defraud the rights of a co-owner or spouse; or,
  • Any structure or vehicle when it’s reasonable foreseeable that it may endanger human life.

Second-Degree Arson

Second-degree arson is when a defendant knowingly causes damage by fire or explosive to, or causes, aids, advises or procures another to damage, any building, vehicle, railroad car, watercraft, aircraft, or other structure not included in first-degree arson without the consent of the owner.

Third-Degree Arson

Third-degree arson is when a defendant knowingly damages, or causes, aids, advises, or procures another to damage by fire or explosive, personal property with at least $25 of another without his consent:

  • The property is insured without the consent of the insured and the insurer; or,
  • Done with the intent to defeat or defraud the rights of a spouse or co-owner.

Penalties for Arson

A conviction for first-degree arson can result in a prison term of no less than one year and no more than 20 years and/or a $50,000 fine. A conviction for second-degree arson can result in a prison term of no less than one year and no more than 10 years and/or a fine not exceeding $25,000. A conviction for third-degree arson can result in a prison term of no less than one year and no more than five years and/or a fine not exceeding $10,000.

What Constitutes Suspicious Behavior in an Arson Case?

In Strobel v. State, 322 Ga. App. 569 (2013), the Court affirmed Steven Strobel’s conviction of a single count of first-degree arson after he appealed his conviction, asserting that the trial court erred by admitting into evidence a credit card receipt—which he contends the State did not lay a proper foundation for.

In this case, the Forsyth County Fire Department responded to a fire at Strobel’s girlfriend’s house at about 4:30 am on the morning of January 18, 2009. One of the responding firefighters became suspicious because there were multiple racial slurs and terroristic threats sprayed on the fence, there was a lack of furniture in the house and an arson investigator who also worked with the fire department smelled a strong gasoline odor on the basement floor. Further, based on the burn patterns, it was concluded that “it was a set fire.” An investigator with State Farm Insurance Company also concluded that the fire had been caused by “an intentional human act.” He also found other indicators of fraud: the fire was set after 11pm, the homeowners were not present nor were any family pets and there were very few personal items in the home.

In addition, Strobel lied when he was questioned about the fire, claiming that the couple had traveled to Washington, D.C. but it was later determined that they had not. Also, upon execution of a search warrant of Strobel’s home, investigators found large amounts of items belonging to the girlfriend. Subsequently, a jury found Strobel guilty of arson for all of the suspicious behavior testified to in Court.

Defenses Against an Arson Charge

Depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding your case, there may be some possible defenses that an experienced criminal defense attorney could employ to advocate on your behalf. In order to be guilty of arson, the prosecution must prove that the accused knowingly caused damage to property by the means of a fire or explosive. Therefore, providing evidence showing that the accused did not have the knowledge or intention to cause the resulting damage from a fire could result in the charges against the defendant being dismissed. Another possible defense to an arson charge is to provide evidence showing that the accused had consent to the act of setting fire to the damaged property.

Contact Bixon Law Today

If you or someone you know has been charged with arson, call Bixon Law. Michael Bixon represents clients in Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia. He is committed to helping his clients through difficult situations and working to get them the best possible outcome. We invite you to call us at 404-551-5684 for a free consultation today.