Orange County Arson Defense Attorney
Charged With Illegal or Reckless Burning?
Outside of earthquakes, forest fires pose the biggest threat to Southern Californians. During wildfire season, people living in burn-prone areas have to brace themselves. So, it should come as no surprise that law enforcement is particularly tough on suspected arsonists. Unlike other parts of the country, our region is especially dry. One loose ember can burn millions of acres to the ground, causing tremendous financial damage and killing anyone caught in the blaze.
If you've been accused of arson, don’t wait another moment. Get the representation you need to avoid a significant loss of freedoms. Police and prosecutors waste little time dealing with people charged with arson. The catastrophic damage that such flames can cause in our part of the world demands swift action.
Contact the Law Office of Michael L. Guisti to schedule a free consultation at your earliest convenience. Remember that you have rights and the burden of proof falls upon the prosecution. This means there is ample time to build a solid defense and refute whatever charges you face. But you must act now to avoid further complications.
Call (714) 530-9690 or toll-free (888) 478-8999 now to speak with an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney about your case.
What Are California’s Arson Laws?
California has the most thorough set of arson laws, which include various enhancements that can put you behind bars for years. The two broad crimes that you may be aware of are arson and reckless burning.
If you are suspected of committing arson, you are being charged under California Penal Code Section 451, which states that you:
"Willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned or who aids, counsels, or procures the burning of, any structure, forest land, or property."
The code is broken down into more detailed scenarios, each of which has its own punishments:
- Simple Arson: The standard definition of arson is that a defendant “maliciously” and “willfully” set fire to a structure, forested land, or other property. The penalties for this charge can change based on the type of property burned.
- Arson of an Inhabited Structure: An inhabited structure refers to any place where someone lives, such as a house, motorhome, cabin, hotel, or apartment. In criminal court, it does not matter if a resident was in the structure when the arson occurred.
- Arson of Forested Land or an Uninhabited Structure: Forested land refers to any area with a large quantity of trees that grow closely together or an area with a large track of underbrush, such as the various hiking trails and campsites throughout Orange County. Uninhabited structures can refer to any buildings that do not traditionally house people, such as office buildings.
- Arson Causing Great Bodily Injury: “Great bodily injuries” refer to injuries that go beyond a standard burn, but this definition may ultimately be up to a judge.
- Aggravated Arson: Aggravated arson is an enhancement that can drastically increase the penalties. You can be charged with aggravated arson if you have a prior felony arson conviction, if you used a device to accelerate or delay the ignition of the fire, if more than one person was injured or more than one structure was burned, if the victim was emergency personnel, if the structure was a place of worship, or if you set the fire in retaliation against a landlord or property owner.
A single arson conviction can put you on the arson offender registry. If you are on the registry and you receive a second conviction within 10 years, then you can be charged with aggravated arson.
Reckless burning is covered under Penal Code 452 and refers specifically to scenarios where a person “recklessly” and “unlawfully” burns “any structure, forest land or property.” Unlike arson, which requires the element of malicious or willful actions, reckless burning stresses that your actions were “reckless,” such as setting off fireworks, failing to put out a campfire, or throwing a cigarette into brush.
"There was an accident in my home that caused my house to be destroyed in a fire. Police said I purposely burnt down my house and was going to be charged with arson. I met with attorney Michael L. Guisti at his office and we talked for quite awhile, and he was worried about my and my kid's living situation. He went beyond simply being an attorney to somebody who actually cared about my well-being. Mr. Guisti is a really smart guy who knows his legal stuff, and Mr. Guisti got this charge thrown out of court, and he made a point to help with my insurance so me and my kids have a house to live in. Thank you so much Mr. Guisti. If you're in trouble I STRONGLY recommend Mr. Guisti, because the guy knows how law works, and how to keep you safe!"
How Is Arson Punished in California?
Depending on the circumstances surrounding your case and your intentions when setting the blaze, you could be facing a wide range of possible punishments. Reckless burning is a wobbler, which means the related charges can be filed as either felonies or misdemeanors.
Generally, this means if you acted in a reckless manner and started a fire that was localized and didn’t harm anyone, you could be charged with misdemeanor reckless burning, which comes with up to six months in county jail and/or a maximum $1,000 fine. However, if someone was injured, you burned an inhabited building or forested land, or a large amount of property was damaged, then the prosecution will likely pursue felony charges.
Reckless burning penalties can include:
- Reckless Burning of an Uninhabited Structure or Forested Land: For a felony charge, up to 16 months, two or three years in prison; for a misdemeanor charge, up to six months in jail.
- Reckless Burning of an Inhabited Structure: For a felony charge, up to two, three, or four years in prison; for a misdemeanor charge, up to one year in jail.
- Reckless Burning Causing Great Bodily Injury: For a felony charge, up to two, four, or six years in prison; for a misdemeanor charge, up to one year in jail.
However, if the prosecutor can prove that you acted maliciously and willfully, meaning you intentionally burned a structure or property, you can be charged with arson, which is almost always treated as a felony. This can lead to several different penalties, including:
- Arson of an Uninhabited Structure or Forested Land: Up to two, four, or six years in prison.
- Arson of an Inhabited Structure: Up to three, five, or eight years in prison.
- Arson Causing Great Bodily Injury: Up to five, seven, or nine years in prison.
- Aggravated Arson: 10 years to life in prison.
Defenses After an Arson Arrest
California can impose harsh penalties on anyone convicted of either reckless burning or arson. Our state has faced too many destructive wildfires over the years; investigators want to find someone to punish. If you have been arrested for arson or reckless burning, you need Law Office of Michael L. Guisti to build you a strong defense, which can include:
- You did not act willfully or maliciously, and your charges should be reduced.
- You only burned your own property and no one else was harmed.
- It is a case of mistaken identity, and someone else is responsible for the crime.
- The fire was caused due to an accident, and you did not act recklessly or maliciously.
- The structure was uninhabited, and your charges should be reduced.
Make the Call Today
If you or a loved one has been charged with arson, contact Law Office of Michael L. Guisti as soon as possible. We can't stress the vigorous defense that must be presented to avoid further trouble. Arson is a serious crime and can land you in prison for an extensive period of time. Our lead attorney is a member of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 and can review the facts of your case to build a thorough defense.
Reach us today at (714) 530-9690 or toll-free at (888) 478-8999 for a free case evaluation.
Whether you're facing a felony or a misdemeanor, don't risk a conviction. Act quickly to redeem your reputation and protect your record by consulting with our Orange County criminal defense lawyer. Call today to schedule your free consultation.