Arson is a complex crime with a significant risk of injury or death to innocent people and firefighters. Does it matter if the intention of the fire was to injure, or to commit insurance fraud, or if a person just left a campfire burning on a camping trip during a drought?
Intention does matter, but not by much. Consequences matter more, and any reckless, fraudulent, or homicidal use of fire is a serious crime. Arson, if it involves significant injury or loss of life, can put a person in prison for life. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the consequences of arson. Laws have changed over time, and state laws have differences. But the devastating consequences of using fire as a weapon for property destruction means that there are federal and state task forces, specialist investigators, insurance fraud specialists, and specialty police units all dedicated to studying and understanding arson.
Arson used to be defined as a fire set to destroy a structure. There were different degrees of charge, misdemeanor or felony if there were understood to be people inside the building. People could burn down their own property. However, the rapid expansion of insurance fraud investigations has caused the understanding of the crime to be detailed with more specificity. The consequences, in more densely populated regions of the country, can be catastrophic, so there is more specificity as well in relation to intention and carelessness.
Arson involves intention, recklessness, and direct or indirect action. Recklessness means you are being careless and not paying attention; through your actions, which you understood, a fire occurred which caused property or danger to people. Starting a campfire in a region of public lands in which there is a current drought, in which no campfire signs are clearly mounted, or in a region in which rangers or park law enforcement tell you no campfires are allowed is considered reckless. Dropping a lit match or cigarette and leaving it, rather than ensuring it is out in these dangerous circumstances, and fire results–this is arson. The action was reckless, you could be expected to know better, and fire resulted in property damage or injury or death of a person.
Direct or indirect action means you are responsible for the effects of the fire. If the entire neighborhood burns down, you are still responsible, though you only started a small fire in the garage. Arson has occurred with either an explosion that results in a fire, or setting a fire. Any incendiary device that results in a fire is considered arson.
Most significant, if the intention was to perpetrate insurance fraud, then the charges that can result from an act of arson are going to be more serious. Especially in the case of an injury or death to a bystander or fireman, the act of arson as part of a fraudulent scheme now includes murder or manslaughter.
Investigations of arson are complex, but always consider intention, recklessness, direct or indirect action, and if the arson was part of a more complex insurance fraud. These investigations are challenging. When people understand that the consequences of their insurance fraud have suddenly become significantly more dangerous, with property damage outside of themselves or with people injured or killed, they attempt to cover up actions or intentions and are less forthcoming with investigators. But the consequences of this serious crime need to be understood, and the fact become known to the public record. Victims deserve the truth.
Can we help you investigate an instance of arson or insurance fraud? Please contact us for an appointment.