Arson and aggravated arson: What are the differences?

With the recent horrendous California fires, it goes without saying that you should be very careful indeed about what you do whenever you are outdoors. If you start a fire, you could find yourself charged with arson or aggravated arson.

As FindLaw explains, the California Penal Code provides for two ways in which you could be held criminally responsible for any fire you start.

Arson elements and penalties

Should you find yourself charged with arson, understand that virtually all forms of this crime constitute a felony. To convict you of “basic” arson, the prosecutor must prove the following three things:

  1. That you acted willfully and maliciously
  2. That you set a fire or caused one to start
  3. That the fire caused burning of a structure, a property or a forest land

An arson conviction carries penalties of from three to nine years in prison, plus a fine of up to $50,000.

Aggravated arson elements and penalties

Should you find yourself facing aggravated arson charges, this is an even more serious charge. To convict you, not only must the prosecutor prove the same three elements as in “basic” arson, but also that the fire you willfully and maliciously set caused property damage that exceeded $6.5 million and/or that you have had one or more prior arson convictions during the past decade.

An aggravated arson conviction carries penalties of possible life imprisonment, plus a fine of up to $50,000.

While this is general educational information and not legal advice, it can help you understand the differences between arson and aggravated arson and what to expect if you ever face charges for either.

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