What is the Law on Arson in Virginia and What are the Punishments for it?
The crime of arson involves willingly setting fire to someone’s property with the intent of destroying it. FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program reported more than 49,000 cases of arson in 2010. During 2010-2014, reported arson of around 29,000 leading to 440 civilian deaths, 1310 civilian injuries and property damage of more than $1 billion.
The Virginia Law categorizes arson crimes depending on the type of property being destroyed and the conditions under which the act happened
An important feature of the Virginia Arson Law is that not only the person causing the fire or explosion but anyone involved in the planning of the act, can face prosecution for the act and be ordered the same punishment as the individual causing the final fire.
This means that even if one was not involved in lighting the actual fire, but significantly aided the process, encouraged the person to execute act is also responsible and punishable for the offense.
To convict a person of arson in Virginia requires to prove:
- Use of inflammables, multiple points of origin of the fire, or absence of other accidental causes
- A criminal and purposeful intent of the alleged person (s)
The burning of a dwelling house: ( Va. Code Ann. Section 2-77): This statute applies when the alleged person has burned a dwelling place.
- A dwelling place is usually a home, but a number of places come under this category under the statue.
- The dwelling place should be inhabitant or underuse during the act.
- A property is considered to be a dwelling place even when no person was present in the property at the time of fire or explosion. Hence the alleged person will be prosecuted under this statue even if a loss of lives or injury happens.
The punishment for burning of a dwelling place when occupied can be a fine up to $100,000 or imprisonment up to 5 years or both. The punishment for burning of a dwelling place when not occupied can be a fine of up to $100,000 or imprisonment up to 2 years or both.
- Burning of a meeting house ( Code Ann. Section 18.2-79): This statute applies when the alleged person has burned a meeting house
- Meetinghouse include places like churches, jails, courthouses, etc
- It is a class 3 Felony.
The punishment for burning of a meeting house when occupied can be a fine up to $100,000 or imprisonment of 5-20 years or both. The punishment for burning of a meeting house when not occupied can be a fine of up to $100,000 or imprisonment up to 2 to 10 years or both.
- Burning or destroying of any other building or structure ( Code Ann. Section 18.2-80): This statue applies for burning or destruction of buildings or structures other than dwelling places or meeting houses
The punishment under this statue is a fine up to $100,000 or imprisonment of 5-20 years or both when occupied and a fine of up to $100,000 or imprisonment up to 2 to 10 years or both, when not occupied.
- Burning of personal property ( Code Ann. Section 18.2-81): The statute applies when alleged person attempts to destroy or burn any kind of personal property of another person with malicious intent, or any property with an intent of fraud with an insurer. The punishment under this statue depends on the cost of the personal property destroyed in the event. If the value of the property is $200 or more, the act comes under a class 4 felony, while if the value of the property is less than $200 it comes under a class 1 misdemeanor.
The specifics of any case are more complicated, and so is the evidence for showing the nature or purpose of fire, which does make arson a sensitive case area.