Arson is a crime where one intentionally or maliciously sets fire to buildings, wild land areas, cars and or other property with the intent to cause damage. In most cases, it is a first degree felony in Florida and it is an extremely serious charge. There have many cases over the years in and around South Florida, where business owners and homeowners alike have been charged and convicted of arson. Arson cases are often related to homicides, drug charges and white collar crimes. The lawyers at the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Berman and Tsombanakis, LLC, have handled arson cases as well as other major felonies all over South Florida.
Arson is defined by Florida Statute 806.01 as follows:
(1) Any person who willfully and unlawfully, or while in the commission of any felony, by fire or explosion, damages or causes to be damaged:
(a) Any dwelling, whether occupied or not, or its contents;
(b) Any structure, or contents thereof, where persons are normally present, such as: jails, prisons, or detention centers; hospitals, nursing homes, or other health care facilities; department stores, office buildings, business establishments, churches, or educational institutions during normal hours of occupancy; or other similar structures; or
(c) Any other structure that he or she knew or had reasonable grounds to believe was occupied by a human being,
is guilty of arson in the first degree, which constitutes a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in §775.082, §775.083, §775.084.
(2) Any person who willfully or unlawfully, or while in the commission of any felony, by fire or explosion, damages or causes to be damaged any structure, whether the property of himself or herself or another, under any circumstances not referred to in subsection (1), is guilty of arson in the second degree, which constitutes a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided by §.775.082, §775.083, §775.084.
Arson resulting in injury to another person, including a firefighter is defined by Florida Statute 806.031.
Some arson cases are investigated by the Florida Division of Fire Marshall, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations. This division investigates more than 4,000 fire investigations per year. They are often called upon by city, county, state and federal agencies, as well as private citizens to investigate certain cases. Many cases of arson involve individual setting fire to other individual’s property or to one’s own property in order to collect insurance money. Individuals who commit arson to collect insurance money are not only committing the crime of arson, but also the crime of insurance fraud. They may face both criminal and civil penalties as well for this crime.
Arson is also common in homicide investigations, where the house or place of the murder is set on fire in hopes of covering up the crime scene. An individual who commits such a crime would most likely be charged with both murder and arson in the first degree. There have also been cases of arson related to drug crimes as well. In cases where business are being investigated for white collar crimes, arson is often suspected when the business and/or documents are destroyed by fire.
Arson is usually prosecuted as a felony, some cases when very little damage is done are charged as misdemeanor criminal mischief. Criminal Mischief charges are common in juvenile court, with many cases happening in and around school property. Criminal Mischief is defined in part by Florida Statute 806.13 as the willful or malicious injuries or damages by any means, any real or personal property belonging to another. It is often charged in cases of vandalism or graffiti. If the damage is greater than $200.00 but less than $1000.00 than it is charged as a first degree misdemeanor. If the damage is less than $200.00, then it is charged as a second degree misdemeanor.
If you or a family member has been arrested for arson or any other crime anywhere in Broward County, Miami-Dade County, or Palm Beach County, pleases email or call one of the lawyers at the South Florida Criminal Defense Law Firm of Berman & Tsombanakis LLC at (954) 764-6099 or (954) 524-6911. We will be happy to discuss your case with you for free and go over all your options in order to chart the best course of action and put forth the most aggressive legal defense.