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What is the difference between arson and aggravated arson?

As a California resident, you know the fire danger our state faces almost year round. Everyone needs to be constantly on guard against accidentally starting a fire by means of a cigarette, a barbecue grill, a campfire and other innocuous, but sometimes careless, activities.

As FindLaw explains, you can be held criminally liable if you recklessly cause a fire in a forest or on someone’s property, even if you are not actually charged with arson. If you are charged with arson, the California Penal Code provides for both arson and aggravated arson. It also provides for attempted arson and unlawfully causing a fire.

Arson elements and penalties

Virtually all forms of arson are felonies in California. Should you be charged with “basic” arson, the prosecutor must prove the following three things in order for you to be convicted:

  1. You acted both willfully and maliciously.
  2. You set a fire or caused a fire to be started.
  3. The fire caused a structure, a property or a forest land to be burned.

If you are convicted, you could face a prison term of from three to nine years and a fine of as much as $50,000.

Aggravated arson elements and penalties

To be convicted of aggravated arson, the prosecutor must prove not only that you specifically intended to cause property damage or bodily injury, but also that your fire caused property damage amounting to $6.5 million or more or that you have been convicted of another arson crime during the past 10 years. The penalties for aggravated arson include fines of up to $50,000 and possible life imprisonment. This is general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice.

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