At the beginning of this year, there were dozens of fires set in residential areas of San Jose and local law enforcement officials were investigating the case. For 4 days in January, various structures in the area were mysteriously burned, including a church, houses, and a large warehouse. Now, a 49-year-old man (name withheld to preserve the accused’s privacy) has been charged with 4 counts of attempted arson and 9 counts of actual arson, to which he has pled guilty.
California laws concerning arson (CA Penal Code 451 and 452) are quite clear. Anyone purposefully and maliciously setting fire to property, structures, or forested land could be accused of this crime. Normally, ‘reckless’ burning (a fire that is set, not with malicious intent, but with a certain amount of disregard for the safety of others, perhaps) is normally treated as a misdemeanor. However, arson is more usually considered a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to a prosecutor’s discretion as to whether to treat it as a misdemeanor or as a felony. It should be noted, however, that malicious destruction of property by fire is always considered a felony in the state of California.
Sentencing and penalties for malicious arson are strict and harsh; you will, at the very least, end up paying a $10,000 fine. More than this, you could spend up to 3 years in prison if you purposefully and with ill intent set fire to someone else’s property. If the fire destroyed any forested lands, you could spend up to 6 years in state prison and, if you burned down a building that is usually inhabited, you could spend p to 8 years in prison. There are additional penalties for causing a fire during which an individual is harmed or killed.
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