The severity of an arson charge depends on the circumstances of the case. The burning of an empty building will be treated more leniently than an occupied building. Intentionally starting a fire will face greater repercussions than an accidental fire. Regardless, it is important to have a legal representative on hand to assist when facing these serious charges.
Motive and opportunity are essential in cases. Opportunity is difficult to prove if the defendant can provide an alibi with reliable eyewitnesses. It is also difficult for a prosecutor to prove a person guilty due to a lack of evidence. Even with small fires, most evidence ends up getting destroyed, making it difficult for investigators to determine the cause of the fire. It is also rare to find anyone who saw the cause of the fire. Prosecutors may find witnesses who saw the fire, but they may not know its origin.
Motive is also difficult to prove, depending on the circumstances. One of the primary motives for arson is insurance fraud. Arsonists will burn a building to collect the insurance, which might be more than what the building would sell for. If there is no link between the suspect and an insurance settlement, it may prove harder for the prosecutor to secure a conviction.
Exploiting a Weak Investigation
The investigation method that the police use when examining an arson case is not infallible, which is another weakness a good lawyer can exploit. Given the amount of damage done to a burned structure, it could take investigators years to put together a case. Even then, to prove a theory about how a fire began, a prosecutor will call in witnesses to expound upon that theory. Those witnesses could be wrong, or a good defense expert can sufficiently refute expert testimonies.
What is the Arson Law in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, it is illegal for a person to deliberately set a fire or cause an explosion. The state separates the severity of its arson charges into four categories:
- First-Degree Arson: This is when a person is hired to set a fire, or a person sets a fire to a church or other religious institution. Punishment consists of 15 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
- Second-Degree Arson: This offense applies to those who set fires to harm others or to collect insurance. It carries with it a five to 10-year prison term.
- Third-Degree Arson: When a person starts a fire that could recklessly put a building or person in danger, it is third-degree arson. It could result in a five-year prison term.
- Fourth Degree Arson: This is when a person is legally obligated to stop or prevent a fire but fails to do so. It carries an 18-month prison term.
There might be a reprieve for those convicted of aggravated arson to get out of prison early. A person must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before they could become eligible for parole. If a person is facing arson charges, they need to hire a lawyer who understands criminal law. A skilled lawyer will protect their rights and construct a strong defense.
South Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers at Agre & St. John Assist Clients Facing Arson Charges
If you are facing arson charges, it is important to hire a legal representative as soon as possible so that they can immediately start building your defense. Our South Jersey criminal defense lawyers at Agre & St. John help those accused of arson. Call us at 856-428-7797 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Burlington County, Camden County, Gloucester County, and Salem County.