Arson Laws in Texas
Every once in awhile, the news broadcasts in Texas may mention the story of a fire that blazed out of control and damaged large amounts of property. In some cases, fire departments and law enforcement conduct an investigation to determine whether or not the fire was the result of arson.
Arson is a serious crime that can be punished severely. Arson investigations are typically conducted when a fire starts under suspicious circumstances. If an investigation reveals foul play at the scene of a destructive fire, criminal charges may be filed.
What Is Arson?
According to Chapter 28 of the Texas Penal Code, arson is defined as intentionally or recklessly starting a fire or explosion with intent to cause damage to property or with disregard for the safety of property or other people. In Texas, a person can be charged with and convicted of arson even if they started a fire which burned out without causing any damage. As long as the person who started the fire had intent to cause damage, they may be charged with arson.
Different Types of Arson
Arson is committed for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most common reason for committing arson is to intentionally damage a structure or property. However, there are several different reasons that a person might choose to commit this type of crime. Some of these motivations can include:
- Financial gain from insurance payouts
- Attempted murder or assault
- Concealing evidence of another crime
- A fire caused by another illegal activity, such as manufacturing methamphetamine
The type of motivations and intentions that are involved in a particular arson case can have a powerful impact on the type of charges that are filed. For example, a person who burns down his neighbor’s barn after recklessly starting a fire to clear some brush may not be penalized as harshly as a person who sets fire to his own house in order to collect insurance money.
There are different tiers and degrees of severity that apply to arson crimes. For example, a person who starts a fire or explosion that damages property as the result of manufacturing an illicit drug may be charged with a state jail felony.
A person who intentionally starts a fire or explosion that results in injury or death may only be convicted of a state jail felony if they had no intention to cause harm.
However, a person who intentionally starts a fire or explosion for the express purpose of causing damage or injury may be convicted of a second degree felony. If this event occurs and a person is injured or killed as a result, the charges may be upgraded to a first degree felony.
The penalties associated with a conviction for an arson crime can be very serious. They frequently include incarceration and steep fines and they may even involve court-mandated restitution to the owner of the damaged property.
Intentionally starting a fire or explosion for the purpose of destroying or damaging property is a second degree felony in Texas. This crime is punishable by:
- Two to 20 years in state prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
In some cases, the court may order the convicted defendant to repay the owner of the damaged property for the cost of repairs.
Arson is a very serious crime and anyone who is charged with an arson offense needs an experienced criminal defense attorney. In arson cases, the issue of intent is critical. For example, the difference between a state jail felony conviction and a second degree felony conviction can be found in the issue of intent.
A defense attorney may argue that his or her client did not intend to damage or destroy the property of another person by starting a fire. They could argue that the defendant simply started a fire for innocent reasons and then lost control of the blaze. If the attorney can convince a jury the fire was not started with an intention to harm or damage any property, the charge might be lowered to a less serious offense.