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In Florida, intentionally starting a building or forest fire can result in a felony conviction. Even accidental fires can result in a criminal conviction, in situations such as starting a fire while committing another felony or recklessly starting a forest fire. 

Penalties for arson crimes depend on the type of property damaged by the fire. If any is hurt by the fire you will likely face additional charges.

Attorney for Arson in Fort Lauderdale, FL

Florida arson convictions come with harsh consequences, and a successful defense against any arson charge takes someone with in-depth knowledge of the numerous factors involved in an arson case. If you have been arrested for arson in Fort Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines, Hollywood, Miramar, Coral Springs, Pompano Beach, Davie, Plantation, Sunrise, Deerfield Beach, Weston, Tamarac or any of the surrounding areas, contact Meltzer & Bell.

The Fort Lauderdale arson attorneys at Meltzer & Bell have years of experience defending clients like you. They have worked on both sides of the law, and they understand what it takes to have charges reduced and dismissed. Call (954) 765-6585 to schedule a free intial consultation to learn more about how Meltzer & Bell can help you.

Information on Florida Arson Charges

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Definition and Penalties for Arson in Florida

Arson is a property crime defined by Fla. Stat. § 806.1 as causing property damage by fire or explosion willfully and unlawfully or while committing another felony. Penalties depend on the type of property damaged.  You can be convicted of arson as a first-degree felony if you damage:

  • A residential dwelling or its contents, regardless of whether it is occupied at the time;
  • A building (or its contents) where people are normally present, such as a school or business during normal operating hours; or
  • Any building you knew or had reason to know had people in it.

If convicted of arson as a first- degree felony, you face up to 30 years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both.

If you damage a building by fire or explosion, and it does not meet the criteria to be charged as a first-degree arson, you will be charged with arson as a second-degree felony.  If convicted of arson as a second-degree felony, you face 15 years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both.

Under Fla. Stat. § 590.28(1) it is a third-degree felony to intentionally burn wild lands that do not belong to you, for example starting a forest fire.  If convicted of this crime, you face up to five years in prison, up to $5,000 in fines or both.

Even an accidental forest fire can lead to a criminal conviction and jail time.  If you are convicted of recklessly starting a fire on or burning wild lands that do not belong to you, under Fla. Stat. § 590.28(2) this is a second-degree misdemeanor. This could be punishable by 60 days in jail, a $500 fine or both.

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Arson Resulting in Death or Injury

If anyone dies or is injured by the fire, you may face other charges. Specifically, Fla. Stat. § 806.031 provides additional penalties on top of any penalties that result from a conviction for arson, although it is possible to be convicted on this charge even if you are not convicted of arson. 

Any bodily harm to anyone resulting from the fire, even if completely unintentional, can result in a second-degree misdemeanor charge and additional penalties of 60 days in jail, a $500 fine or both.

If the fire causes great bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement to anyone, even if the arsonist never meant to hurt anyone, this can result in a second-degree felony charge and additional penalties of 15 years in prison, a $10,000 fine or both.

Starting a fire with the intention of harming people can result in additional charges, even including premeditated murder.

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Definition and Penalties for Fire Bombs

It is illegal to possess, manufacture, transport, give away, offer for sale or otherwise transfer or offer to give someone a fire bomb, even if you do not use the fire bomb yourself, or nobody uses it at all.  

Florida Stat. § 806.111(2)(b) defines a “fire bomb” as a container containing flammable or combustible liquid, or any incendiary chemical mixture or compound that has a wick or other means of lighting the device.  This does not include commercially produced items intended for lighting, heating, or cooking that have not been altered or modified. 

If convicted of making or possessing a fire bomb, this is a third-degree felony and you face up to five years in prison, up to $5,000 in fines or both.

As with arson convictions, possessing a fire bomb is considered a violent crime, and having a conviction for a violent crime will affect such things as sentencing for future criminal convictions.

As with any crime, the prosecution must demonstrate criminal intent.  If the prosecution can not demonstrate intent, the charges may be dropped, and you should not be found guilty if the case goes to trial.  For example, a Florida prosecutor did not to file charges against a man attempting to make fireworks for personal entertainment after the coffee grinder he was mixing ingredients in blew his hands off, because the prosecutor realized the incident lacked criminal intent.

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Defenses to an Arson Charge

It is possible to be falsely accused of arson due to an accidental fire.  If this happens, a skilled Broward County arson defense attorney can point out problems with evidence to defeat false accusations of arson. Forensic evidence such as that found at fire scenes is often hard to analyze. Lab instruments are expensive, and the state Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations often does not have the newest and best equipment. 

Evidence from fires and explosions is one of the most difficult types of forensic evidence to work with. Evidence from a fire scene may have been improperly packaged after collection or contaminated.  A Broward County arson defense attorney can obtain records related to the fire and evidence analysis to determine if evidence was improperly handled and challenge it in court.

It is also possible that circumstances surrounding the incident may have been misrepresented or wrongfully reported.  If this is the case, it may be possible to get your charges reduced to a lesser form of arson, a misdemeanor charge such as criminal mischief, or even dismissed entirely.

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Finding an Attorney for Arson Crimes in Fort Lauderdale, FL

Arson charges are serious accusations that can carry steep penalties. No matter the situation, the attorneys at Meltzer & Bell can help you fight the charges. Call (954) 765-6585 to schedule a free initial consultation with a Fort Lauderdale arson defense lawyer.

Our team can work with you one-on-one to ensure you are rightfully represented. Begin planning your defense as soon as possible, and call today.

This article was last updated on Friday, October 31, 2016.

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