What is the Law on Arson in Florida and what are the Punishments for it?
There are crimes committed against people and then there are crimes committed against property i.e. burglary, vandalism, defacement, trespass, etc. In this context, Arson is a property crime, which in some cases, may also result in loss of life. Thus, across all States in the US, Arson is categorized as a violent criminal offense which is usually charged as a felony.
Arson, defined in the simplest terms, is the willful act of inflicting damages and/or destruction of property by the unlawful use of fire or explosives. Perpetrators of this crime have various motivations ranging from insurance fraud to seeking revenge to the sheer thrill of causing destruction.
Further elaborations on this definition have been enacted by state legislatures so as to include a wider range of offenses. In some rare cases, Arson may also be prosecuted as a form of criminal mischief, a misdemeanor or destruction of property.
If the offense of Arson is viewed as a means for homicide, then in some States, the guilty may also end up serving a death sentence. No matter what the charges, the punishments incurred by the guilty are severe.
The State of Florida identifies felony and based on the alleged facts, deems it as a first degree or a second-degree felony. The definition of Arson is codified under Florida Statute Title XLVI 806.01 and the criminal penalties for it are stipulated in Florida Statutes Title XLVI 775.082, 83 and 84.
Furthermore, the defendant can also be charged with varying degrees of criminal mischief owing to the intentional damage to property and/or insurance fraud or organized scheme to defraud.
The pertinent points of the aforesaid statutes are summarized below:
- The term “structure” as used in the aforesaid statutes refers to any kind of building as long as it is an enclosed area with a roof over it including any real property and its adjoining buildings and appurtenances, any tent or other portable building, and any vessel, vehicle, watercraft, or aircraft.
- First Degree Arson: An individual is said to have committed 1st-degree arson when he/she unlawfully and willfully commits a felony using fire or explosives which results in damage of:
- Any dwelling or its contents, irrespective of the fact whether it is occupied or not.
- Any structure or its contents, where people are normally present during normal hours of the day or otherwise in the structure i.e. hospitals, nursing homes, other medical facilities, education institutions, business establishments, department stores, churches, detention centers, jails or office buildings.
- Any structure where the perpetrator had reasonable cause to believe occupancy by a human being.
1st-degree arson constitutes a serious criminal offense and the law stipulates a prison sentence of no less than 30 years and a fine of at most $10,000. In the event of personal injury to the victim or the occurrence of a fatality, the convicted faces additional charges and stricter punishments.
- Second Degree Arson: An individual is said to have committed 2nd-degree arson when he/she unlawfully and willfully commits a felony using fire or explosives which results in damage of any property which is not covered under the statute for 1st-degree arson.
2nd-degree arson also constitutes a serious criminal offense and the law stipulates a prison sentence of no less than 15 years and a fine of at most $10,000. In the event of personal injury to the victim or the occurrence of a fatality, the convicted faces additional charges and stricter punishments.
- Additionally, if the convicted is discovered during trial proceedings, to have been in possession of any destructive device or firearm at the time of the commission of the crime, the law mandates a sentence bearing a minimum prison term of 10 to 20 years.