Can I Be Charged with a Crime for Accidently Starting a Fire?

Arson can carry some pretty harsh penalties. Any person convicted of second degree arson in Rhode Island, in which significant destruction of property occurs, faces 2 to 20 years in prison. A conviction of first degree arson, in which a person is harmed or killed during the fire, carries a sentence of 5 years to life imprisonment.

With that being said, not all fires are set on purpose. Accidents happen, so what’s there to do if you’re arrested for arson?

Intentional vs. Accidental

In most states, you can only be charged for arson if you set fire to someone’s personal property, buildings or land, with the intention of inflicting harm. A prosecutor does not even necessarily need to show your specific intention when you started the fire, as long as they can show that the circumstances demonstrated intention.

A few examples of intentional fires include:

  • Setting fire to someone’s house as an act of revenge
  • Setting fire to your own business in order to collect insurance money

Accidental fires are a whole other situation. Depending on the state, committing an accidental fire can either be prosecuted as misdemeanor arson (lowest of arson charges) or an entirely different charge, as long as the damaged property is the result of a reckless or negligent act.

Recklessness means you knew (or should have known) your actions were likely to cause harm. An example could be lighting fireworks in an area that has a sign warning you of dry grass, brush or other flammable items. You ignored the warning and committed a dangerous act in the area, making it reckless.

Negligence, on the other hand, means you failed to be aware of consequences that would result because of your actions. If you toss a cigarette out of your car and it starts a fire on the side of the road, it may be seen as negligence. You were not aware of the substantial risk of tossing the cigarette.

Rhode Island Arson Attorneys

Being charged with arson is a very grave situation. If you or a loved one has been charged with arson, it is vital you secure the immediate representation of The Law Office of Thomas C. Thomasian, Esq. Our attorneys can do investigative research into the events leading up to your arrest, interview witnesses and gather evidence to support your case.

Contact our office today at (401) 312-4385 or online for a free consultation.