Maine Arson Defense Lawyer
Serving the Areas of Portland, Bangor, Augusta, Saco and Biddeford
The crime of arson is one of many in a class of crimes called “property crimes.” These are crimes that involve either damage to property, the taking of someone else's property, or both. Some of the other offenses in this class of crimes are theft, robbery, and criminal mischief. Maine treats all property crimes seriously, but reserves some of the harshest penalties for arson offenses, likely because of how easily fires can get out of control.
The crime of arson is found at 17-A §802(1) of Maine's criminal code:
A person is guilty of arson if he starts, causes, or maintains a fire or explosion;
- On the property of another with the intent to damage or destroy property thereon; or
On his own property or the property of another
- With the intent to enable any person to collect insurance proceeds for the loss caused by the fire or explosion; or
- Which recklessly endangers any person or the property of another.
Reading this statute, it's clear that there are two different types of arson, depending on who owns the property that gets affected, and on the intent of the arsonist in damaging that particular property.
The first type, section 1(a) of the statute, concerns property owned by someone other than the arsonist, and which the arsonist wants to damage. In this case, someone is guilty of arson if he or she “starts, causes, or maintains a fire or explosion... with the intent to damage or destroy” the property on it.
The second type of arson, section 1(b) of the law, is a little more complex, as it concerns property which the arsonist is either burning for insurance money, or which the arsonist burns and recklessly endangers someone else or someone else's property.
Bear in mind that “property” is used in the “legalese” way, here. It doesn't only mean someone's land. Instead, it's meaning is much broader, and includes anything that someone owns, like their car, their house, their pet, or their couch, as well as their land.
These types of arson make it clear that there are several ways of being an arsonist:
- Starting, causing, or maintaining a fire or explosion on someone else's property in order to damage or destroy it;
- Starting, causing, or maintaining a fire or explosion on anyone's property, including your own, in order for someone (again, not necessarily the arsonist) to get insurance money from the loss stemming from the arson; and
- Starting, causing, or maintaining a fire or explosion on anyone's property, including your own, which recklessly endangers someone, or someone else's property.
Notice that Categories 1 and 2 require intent, while Category 3 only requires “recklessness.” You can read up on what these words mean, in the legal sense, here. We'll also delve into each in our blog. In a nutshell, though, “intent” means that you want a certain thing to happen, and then you go out and do it, while “recklessness” means that you consciously disregard the risk that your conduct will have a certain effect. An example of recklessness is swinging a baseball bat in a crowded room: While you're not intending to hurt or kill someone, you're ignoring the substantial chance that it will.
Because it involves fire, which can quickly cause lots of destruction, arson carries harsh penalties. It's a Class A felony crime – the most serious type of crime in Maine, not counting murder, putting arson alongside manslaughter, gross sexual assault, and aggravated drug trafficking. As a Class A felony, an arson conviction comes with up to 30 years in prison, and a $25,000 fine. Each sentence, however, is individualized by the judge hearing the case.
In addition to the criminal sanctions, arson is like other property crimes in Maine, and often comes with what are called “restitution demands.” If convicted for arson, you could then face a civil court case in which you have to make restitution to the person who lost property in the fire or explosion by paying for the value of the property lost.
Arson is a serious crime in Maine, but a charge for arson is not a conviction. There are ways to defend against arson charges, and an experienced criminal defense attorney knows how to use them.
Remember that, in a criminal trial, the prosecution has the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you're guilty of arson. That's a high standard. All that it takes is creating one, single, legitimate doubt in the juries' mind that you didn't commit the crime, and you will be acquitted.
Aside from challenging factual allegations, such as whether you were actually the one setting the fire, or causing the explosion, one way that experienced criminal defense attorneys plant that seed of doubt is by challenging whether you had a “culpable state of mind” at the time of the alleged crime. Did you actually want this outcome? If not, there was no intent. Did you actively ignore a substantial risk to others, or to other people's property in setting the fire or explosion? If not, there wasn't even recklessness, and the prosecutor's case begins to unravel.
Even if the case seems “open and shut,” there are still things that a quality defense attorney can do to help protect your interests and freedom. Because each sentence is individualized, a judge will consider mitigating factors that can lead to a softer sentence. For example, in one case from 1998, someone got angry at her roommate, and set her bed on fire while the roommate was sleeping in it. While this seems to fall under both the first and third Categories of arson that we laid out, above, her defense attorney successfully argued that the defendant woke her roommate up and saved her from the fire, and then tried putting out the blaze. This resulted in several years being taken off the defendant's jail sentence.
Hiring a quality defense attorney can prevent a criminal charge or arson from becoming a conviction. It can also minimize the damages, if it does end up as a conviction. Call William T. Bly at (207) 482-0807.