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Arson is a serious offense in Arizona. You risk losing your freedom and other privileges if you are charged and convicted for the crime. You will need the help of an experienced attorney to help you fight the charges and possibly have them reduced or dismissed.

At Phoenix Criminal Attorney, we value our clients and take their cases seriously. When you call us for legal help, we will listen attentively and then provide you with the available options for your case. Our attorneys have the right skills and expertise to help defend an arson charge in Phoenix, AZ. So don't hesitate to reach out for help.

What is Arson

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), arson is any willful, intentional, or malicious burning or the attempt to burn property, dwelling, motor vehicle, a public building belonging to another person. The act is also a crime if the arsonist commits it with or without the aim of defrauding the property belonging to another person.

Under Statute 13-1703 and 13-704 of Arizona laws, the crime of arson is committed when a person knowingly and without authorization starts a fire or causes an explosion with the intent to damage another person's property. The law also includes fireworks as part of arson since it is connected to an explosion.

The state of Arizona breaks arson into different categories depending on some aspects of the crime. The elements include the severity of the offense, property damaged, among others. The different categories are, 1) Arson of occupied structure, 2) Reckless burning 3) Arson of jail or prison facility that has occupants 4) Unlawful Cross Burning 5) Unlawful Symbol Burning 6) Burning of Wildlands.

Reckless burning is a violation of ARS 13-1702, and it is defined as starting a fire or an explosion that damages the following, wildland, occupied structure, or a property. The crime is a considered class one misdemeanor, which carries a six-month jail term and $2500 fine.

Arson of an occupied structure violates ARS 13-170 and is defined as the intentional act of starting a fire or an explosion to an occupied structure to cause damage. The crime is a class two felony.

Arson of an occupied jail or prison facility is a violation of ARS 13-1705. It is defined as the intentional act of starting a fire or an explosion that causes damage to a jail or prison facility. The offense is a class four felony.

A person commits an unlawful cross burning when they intentionally burn or cause a fire to a cross on another person's property or public property intending to intimidate an individual or groups of individuals.  The offense is charged as a class 1 misdemeanor.

Unlawful symbol burning is a violation of Arizona revised statute 13-1708. The crime is defined as starting a fire to burn a symbol on a person's property, public land, or a highway not addressed under section 13-1707 with the aim of intimidating a person or a certain group of people. The offense is considered a class 1 misdemeanor according to Arizona laws.

The burning of wildlands is a violation of ARS 13-1706. It's defined as the reckless or intentional burning of another person's wildland or intentionally causing fire on your wildland, which travels from your ground to that of another person. A person is guilty of burning wildlands except on the following conditions:

  • Open burning for agricultural purposes.
  • A political subdivision fire management operation.
  • Controlled burning under the supervision of the state forester.
  • A fire that is stated under lawful activities with either the state, tribal and federal authority.

Elements of the Arson

Arson is a serious offense in Arizona, irrespective of which classification it is. If charged, the prosecutor must show the court that certain criminal elements exist for it to be considered an arson offense. The elements include evidence that the fire took place and the intent to commit the offense.

If the prosecutor cannot show the following elements in the crime without a reasonable doubt, then the judge will dismiss the case.

During a plea bargain, the prosecutor may decide to reduce the charges to the lowest arson form, which is reckless burning. The elements under reckless burning are different. They include the unintentional(accidental) act of starting a fire or an explosion and damages resulting from the fire.  Under reckless burning, the prosecutor does not require the presence of intent for you to be charged with the crime. The prosecutor only needs to know you acted recklessly despite knowing the consequences of your actions.

An example of a reckless act is leaving a cigarette butt, which causes fire on a property. If you lawfully start a fire in the forest but do not put measures in place to safeguard it and the fire spreads, you will be charged with reckless burning.

Common Defenses for an Arson Charge

If charged with arson in Phoenix, Arizona, you will need a good defense to help avoid the severe penalties that come with an arson conviction.  You should ask for the help of an experienced attorney who will fight the charges, have them reduced or dismissed. The attorney you choose should help fight tooth and nail with the following defense to ensure you do not face the penalties.

Lack of Intent

The intent is key for the prosecutor to prove that you violated Statute 13-1703 and 13-704. Without the presence of intent, then the least the prosecution can do is reduce the charges to reckless burning or drop them completely. Your attorney should provide evidence showing that there was no plan to commit the offense.

The Act is Not Arson

Your defense attorney can provide evidence showing that even though you might have committed the offense, the act is not arson. An act that causes damage is a big part of the prosecutor’s evidence, so if your attorney can prove the non-existence of the act of arson, then there won’t be any case.


Alibi is key evidence in proving your innocence in court. If your attorney can provide evidence showing your location at the time of the fire, that could help your case. For instance, your attorney could find witnesses who can corroborate where you were at the time when the arson attack took place.

Keep in mind that an alibi won’t work in your favor if the prosecutor has evidence showing that you hired people to burn the property or if you set a bomb to go off at a different time as a means to establish an alibi for yourself.

The Prosecution witness is lying

Your attorney could argue that the witness against you has something to gain by testifying against you, for instance, the reward money given to state witnesses. The witness could be lysing to get back at you for something you did or failed to do to them, particularly if it's an old friend or lover.

Your attorney could also cast doubt on the prosecution’s expert witness. For instance, if the expert witness is incompetent or failed to follow the right procedure when reviewing the crime scene, then your charges could be reducing or have the testimony dismissed.

Defense Eyewitness

In the case of reckless burning, the prosecutor needs to prove that the act was unintentional. In such a case, your defense attorney can provide witnesses statements showing that you did not start the fire to cause damage.

Mistaken Identity

Your defense attorney could also argue that this was just a case of mistaken identity. You could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, which led the police to believe you were the perpetrator of the offense.

Missing Evidence

In some cases, the prosecutor's evidence could be missing or tainted. Any evidence that has been tampered with cannot be admissible in court. The prosecutor must provide a chain of custody.

If the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to charge you for arson, then there won't be any need to be held in police custody for arson crime. The judge can dismiss the case or ask the prosecutor to collect enough evidence before charging you for the crime.

Police Misconduct

Your attorney could also argue that the police acted contrary to the law when handling your case. If the police did not read your rights before interrogation or failed to follow the law in any way when handling your case, the judge could dismiss some of the evidence or even the whole case.

The attorney could also argue that the prosecuting attorney acted against the law when conducting the case. Prosecutorial misconduct is not uncommon in criminal trials. If the prosecuting attorney showed any sign of misconduct, the judge could dismiss the case.

The Property Was Not Occupied

If charged with violation of ARS 13-170 or ARS 13-1705, your attorney could argue that the property was not occupied at the time of the fire. However, this won't mean that the judge will dismiss the case; he/she could ask the prosecutor to reduce the charges.

What Happens When You Are Arrested for Arson?

Arson is a serious offense in Arizona, and you will be arrested for the crime and charge in court. An arrest usually occurs when the police witness you committing the crime. However, tic can also happen when there is sufficient evidence pointing to you as the perpetrator of the crime.

If the police have enough evidence against you, they will seek an arrest warrant from the judge through the prosecuting attorney. The police will then come to your location, show you the arrest warrant then arrest you. While executing the arrest, the police can choose to read your Miranda rights. Miranda rights are based on the 4th amendment rights against self-incrimination. The rights include:

  • The right not to speak to anyone except your attorney.
  • The right to have your attorney present during the interrogation.
  • Anything you say to an officer before or after the interrogation will be used against you in court.
  • The government will hire a public defender to represent you if you cannot hire your attorney. The public defenders are hired by the government and paid with your taxes.

Once the police have read, your rights you must indicate that you understand them. You should give an affirmative answer. If you don't understand English, the police will translate the words for you, recorded for court purposes.

If you understand your rights and choose to proceed with the interrogation, you have the right to stop speaking. You can also choose to confer with your attorney first before proceeding with the interrogation. Always remember that the police are not on your side in such a situation, no matter how friendly they may seem.

Though the rights are sometimes read during the arrest, they are usually read before the police can interrogate you. In case the police question you without reading your rights, your attorney can ask the court to suppress the evidence collected as a result of that interrogation.

Once the police have cuffed you, they will put you inside the police cruiser then drive you to the police station for booking. The booking process involves activities such as taking fingerprints and other suspects' information. You will then be taken to the holding cell awaiting a court appearance. 

The arraignment takes place after the booking process. It where the suspect is introduced before a judge in court. The judge will read the charges brought against you by the prosecutor. He/she will also advise you to take a plea. The pleas are three: Not guilty, guilty, and no contest. Taking a guilty plea will automatically end the case; the only thing left will be for the judge to sentence you.

The case will continue when you take a not guilty plea. Your attorney should fight tooth and nail for you to have the case dismissed or avoid the harsh penalties that come with an arson conviction.

Penalties for Arson in Arizona

Arson is a serious offense that is punished more severely in Arizona. However, the severity of the punishment will depend on the classification of the arson.

Penalties for Wildland Burnings

Wilding burning is a serious offense in Arizona that involves the burning of a forest. The severity of the punishment will depend on the damages that have occurred. The types of damages include:

Acting out of negligence by leaving a campfire unattended, which spreads to the forest, is considered a class two misdemeanor. The offense carries a jail term of four months and a$750 fine, and a probationary period of two years.

Causing wildland destruction because of reckless behavior is a class one misdemeanor. A class one misdemeanor carries a six-month jail term, a probationary period of three years, and a fine of up to $2500, and surcharges.

An intentional act to cause wildland burning is a class six felony, which carries a jail term of one year and five months.

If the fire was due to an intentional act that put the lives of people at risk, the crime is considered a class 3 felony, and it carries a maximum jail term of five years.

Penalties for Unlawful Cross Burning and Unlawful Symbol Burning

Unlawful cross burning is a class one misdemeanor. The offense carries a maximum prison term of six months, a three-year probationary period, and a fine of $2500 with surcharges.

Unlawful symbol burning is a class one misdemeanor that carries a prison term of up to six months, a three-year probationary period, and a 2,500 fine plus surcharges.

Penalties for Arson of a Jail or Prison Facility

Causing fire or an explosion is a serious offense. It is considered a class four felony, which carries a prison term of up to 12 years and five months, seven years' probation, and a $150000 fine.

Arson of an Occupied Structure

Arson of an occupied structure is a class two felony. The offense carries a prison term of up to 12 years and five months. It also has a probationary period of seven years and a $150000 fine.

The damage to the property will also determine the penalties you will face in Arizona. For instance, the destruction of property worth more than $1000 is considered a class four felony, and it carries a jail term of 18 months.

Property worth between $100-$1000 is a class five felony with a nine-month prison sentence.

Property worth less than $100 is class one misdemeanor, and it has a jail term of up to six months and probation of three years.

Find an Experienced Criminal Attorney Near Me

The consequence of a conviction for committing arson is serious. You need the help of a skilled attorney to build robust defenses. Our attorneys at Phoenix Criminal Attorney are aggressive and focused on helping fight your charges. We will walk with you every step of ensuring you receive a fair trial and your rights are respected during the whole process. If you are accused of arson in Phoenix, AZ, reach out to us at 602-551-8092 for legal help.

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