Arson and Related Offenses

Pittsburgh Arson Defense Attorney

Arson is a serious criminal offense in Pennsylvania that may carry significant and life-altering penalties.  Depending on the arson offense that you are charged with, you could be exposed to a wide range of consequences, from a minor summary offense to life imprisonment with no opportunity for parole.  Given the potentially high stakes nature of arson litigation, it’s critical that you approach your defense with an appropriate level of care.

At McKinney Law, our attorneys are keen defense lawyers willing and able to use every weapon in our arsenal to secure a win.  Prosecutors – in Pennsylvania and elsewhere – tend to pursue arson and related property destruction offenses aggressively and their case strategy may consist (at least in part) of adding as many related charges against the defendant as they possibly can.  This can put the defendant in an exceedingly vulnerable position.

However, a Pittsburgh arson defense attorney at our firm understands these prosecutorial tendencies. Our team has considerable experience navigating the complications of criminal litigation.  Contact us today for a free consultation.

Understanding the Different Arson-Related Offenses Under Pennsylvania Law

There are several types of arson offenses in Pennsylvania:

  • Arson endangering persons
  • Aggravated arson
  • Arson of historic resource
  • Arson endangering property
  • Possession of explosive or incendiary materials or devices
  • Reckless burning or exploding
  • Dangerous burning
  • Failure to control or report dangerous fires

Each of these offenses is defined in Section 3301 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes as follows:

Arson Endangering Persons

You can be held liable if you intentionally start a fire or cause an explosion, or if you aid, counsel, pay or agree to pay another to cause a fire or explosion, and if:

  1. You thereby recklessly place another person in danger of death or bodily injury; or
  2. You commit the act with the purpose of destroying or damaging an inhabited building or occupied structure of another.

Arson endangering persons is a first-degree felony offense punishable by up to 20 years of imprisonment and up to $25,000 in fines.  If the fire or explosion causes death, then you could be held liable for second-degree murder (punishable by life imprisonment without parole).  If the fire or explosion was set with the purpose of causing that death, then you could be held liable for first-degree murder (punishable by life imprisonment without parole or even the death penalty).

Aggravated Arson

You can be held liable if you intentionally start a fire or cause an explosion, or if you aid, counsel, pay or agree to pay another to cause a fire or explosion, and if:

  1. You thereby attempt to cause, or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to another person, including, but not limited to a person actively engaged in fighting the fire; or
  2. You commit an arson-related offense when someone is occupying the property.

Aggravated arson is prosecuted as a first-degree felony punishable by up to 40 years of imprisonment and up to $25,000 in fines if bodily injury results to persons actively engaged in fighting the fire (i.e., firefighter, police officer), or if serious bodily injury results to a civilian.

It should also be noted that a person who commits aggravated arson may be found guilty of second-degree murder if the fire or explosion causes death.

Arson of Historic Resource

You can be held liable if you intentionally destroy or damage a historic resource of another, and in doing so:

  1. Intentionally start a fire or cause an explosion; or
  2. Aid, counsel, pay, or agree to pay another to cause a fire or explosion.

This is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment and up to $25,000 in fines.

Arson Endangering Property

You can be held liable if you intentionally start a fire or cause an explosion (or assist, counsel, or agree to pay another to do so), and if:

  1. You commit the act with intent of destroying or damaging a building or unoccupied structure of another;
  2. You thereby recklessly place an inhabited building or occupied structure of another in danger of damage or destruction; or
  3. You commit the act with intent of destroying or damaging any property to collect insurance for such loss.

This is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment and up to $25,000 in fines.

Reckless Burning or Exploding

You can be held liable if you intentionally start a fire or cause an explosion (or assist someone in doing so) and recklessly place:

  1. Another’s uninhabited building or unoccupied structure in danger of damage or destruction, or
  2. Another’s motor vehicle (i.e., car, boat, airplane, etc. valued over $5,000) in danger of damage or destruction.

This is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 7 years of imprisonment and up to $15,000 in fines.

Dangerous Burning

You can be held liable if you intentionally or recklessly start a fire to endanger any person or property of another whether or not any damage to person or property actually occurs.

This is a summary offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and up to $250 in fines.

Failure to Control or Report Dangerous Fires

You can be held liable if you know that a fire is endangering the life or property of another and fail to take reasonable measures to put out or control the fire, when you can do so without substantial risk to yourself or giving a prompt fire alarm.  Liability will only attach, however, if you know that you are under a legal duty to control or combat the fire, or the fire was started lawfully on property in his custody or control.

This is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 5 years of imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines.

Possession of Explosive or Incendiary Materials or Devices

You can be held liable if you possess, manufacture, or transport any incendiary or explosive device or material with the intent to use or to provide such device or material to commit any arson-related offense.  For example, transporting flammable materials to a forest area to burn so as to commit an arson endangering persons offense.

This is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 7 years of imprisonment and up to $15,000 in fines.

Pittsburgh Prosecutors May Be Relying on Indirect Evidence

Depending on the nature of the arson offense that has been brought against you by Pennsylvania prosecutors, there may be a distinct lack of direct evidence of your supposed criminal liability.

However, a skilled Pittsburgh arson defense attorney can discredit a great deal of indirect evidence.  In criminal litigation, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Your attorney will work to un dermine the legitimacy of the evidence that has been presented in order to create a high level of uncertainty about your guilt.

For example, if you are being charged with arson endangering persons, prosecutors may not necessarily have anything more than eyewitness testimony that points to you being the offender.

Schedule a Free Consultation With an Experienced Pittsburgh Arson Defense Attorney at McKinney Law

If you’ve been accused, arrested, or charged with arson (and other property destruction offenses) in Pennsylvania, you could be facing significant penalties.  We encourage you to get in touch with our attorneys for a free, confidential and no-obligation consultation. It is important that you speak to an attorney as soon as possible, as timely consultation can ensure that your rights are more comprehensively and effectively represented during litigation.

Ready to learn more? Call (412) 520-3301 or submit an online case evaluation form through our website to speak to an experienced Pittsburgh arson defense attorney at McKinney Law today.