What You Should Do When Charged With an Arson Crime

If you are charged with an arson crime, it’s essential to speak with a criminal lawyer as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney may be able to help you.

Kimberly2 1Author:

Kimberly J. Benjamin, Founder & Managing Attorney

June 25. 2022.

What Is Arson?

Arson is the act of deliberately setting fire to buildings and other property with the intent to cause damage. There are many arson crimes, ranging from simple misdemeanors to first-degree felonies. Arson is usually charged as a felony because of the risk of death or injury that the arson causes.

The degree of arson varies by state, depending on whether the building was occupied or if the arson involved insurance fraud. Several states have lesser offenses such as criminal mischief and reckless destruction of property as part of their statutes. Missouri has misdemeanor burning charges.

The punishment for arson varies by jurisdiction and usually depends on the harm done. In some states, arson carries life imprisonment or capital punishment if it causes death.

If you have been charged with arson, consider hiring lawyers in Jackson County, MO, to advise you and represent you in court.

Arson as a Felony Crime

In the United States, arson is a crime that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. The difference between the two is that felonies are more serious crimes and carry harsher punishments. Arson is often not considered a felony offense unless it causes severe injury or death. 

Factors that determine whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or felony include:

  • Value of the damaged property

  • Serious bodily injury

  • Death

  • Occupied building

Is Arson a Federal Crime?

The answer is yes, but arson was not considered a federal crime for a long time. In 1875, Congress passed the Arson Act, which made it a federal crime to willfully and maliciously set fire to any building or property within the US maritime and territorial jurisdiction.

Federal arson laws apply to the following:

  • A building, structure, or vessel

  • Materials or machinery used in construction

  • War munitions

  • Military or naval stores

  • Structures or appliances used for navigation or shipping

Federal criminal convictions carry a prison sentence of 25 years or a life sentence if the fire endangered someone’s life. It is also illegal to attempt or conspire to commit arson under federal law.

If police officers or the DA have contacted you as an arson suspect, contact trusted lawyers in Kansas City. They can protect your interests and may even help you avoid charges.

Classification of Arson Crimes and Their Penalties

Arson in the First-degree 

In first-degree arson, the arsonist knows that another person is inside or near the intentionally burned structure. The crime is classified as a Class A felony if another person is injured or killed, meaning they can face between 10 to 30 years or life in prison. However, if no person is injured or killed, it is classified as a Class B felony, and the punishment can range from five to fifteen years. As a result of its potential impact on human life, arson in the first degree carries the heaviest punishment.

Arson in the Second-degree

Second-degree arson occurs when an arsonist intentionally burns a building without knowing another person is inside or nearby. This type of arson charge is a Class D felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison if convicted. However, if a person is killed or is injured as a result of the arson, it is a Class B felony resulting in 5 to 15 years imprisonment.

Arson in the Third-degree

An arsonist who commits third-degree arson intentionally damages or destroys a habitable structure with fire or explosions. The offense is a Class A misdemeanor and can result in a one-year maximum jail sentence and a $2,000 fine.

Burning Crimes in Missouri 

Arson and burning are regarded differently in Missouri, depending on the types of property damage. Burning crimes include:

  • Knowingly Burning or Exploding: The act of knowingly burning or exploding the property of another by starting a fire or causing an explosion resulting in damage. It is a Class E felony that carries a maximum four-year sentence.

  • Reckless Burning or Exploding: The act of recklessly damaging or destroying the property of another by starting a fire or causing an explosion resulting in damage. This Class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1000 fine.

  • Negligent burning/exploding: An individual is guilty of criminal negligence if they ignite a fire or cause an explosion on lands they own or control or allow a fire to burn on another’s property. It also includes damage to woodlands, croplands, prairie, or marsh. It is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a maximum fine of $750.

Why You Should Hire a Missouri Arson Lawyer


Arson carries severe penalties and could affect you for the rest of your life. If you are accused of arson, it is important to consult with a highly-trained criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and help you understand the implications of the charges against you. An experienced arson lawyer will guide you in making informed decisions about how best to proceed in your case.

By developing a strong attorney-client relationship with a defense attorney from the Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center you may be able to avoid an arson conviction for felony offenses related to the malicious burning of someone’s personal property. Contact the Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center for a free evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do People Commit Arson?

While arson is a crime that anyone can commit, it is most commonly committed by those who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There are many reasons why someone might commit arson, including for revenge, vandalism, or profit. Arson can be either malicious or non-malicious.

    Malicious arson is when someone sets fire to a building or other property for the purpose of destroying it. It is often done with the intent of causing damage to another person’s property, or as a form of vandalism.

    Non-malicious arson occurs when someone sets fire to their own property (or another person’s) without intending to cause damage, but rather for a specific reason such as disposing of an unneeded structure.

    What Are the Three Types of Arson?

    Although arson by negligence does happen, arson is generally considered the crime of deliberately setting fire to property. Negligent arson occurs when a person sets fire to property without intending it, such as by accidentally dropping a lit cigarette into dry leaves or grass while smoking outside. Some of the most common types of arson crimes include the following:

    1. Arson for purpose of collecting insurance money
    2. Arson for the purpose of terrorism
    3. Arson for the purpose of destroying evidence in a crime

    Skilled criminal defense lawyers may be able to help you avoid first-degree arson or aggravated arson charges for destroying personal property.

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