These Mistakes Could Land You Arson Charges in Minnesota
Arson is a crime of intent. That means that a fire was set on purpose – which is a crime that many states, such as Minnesota, take very seriously since it can lead to major property damage and even the loss of life.
In Watertown, the fire department was recently called to an elementary school playground. Upon arrival, they found the playground engulfed in flames. The fire was successfully extinguished, but police are now on the hunt for the perpetrator – because they believe the fire was set intentionally.
While our state has seen its fair share of arsons, sometimes a fire can rage out of control without intent. A person may have meant to start a fire, but that doesn’t mean they meant to cause the damage that resulted.
The problem is, there’s a wide interpretation of intent under the law when it comes to arson, so you have to be careful and mount a good defense if you find yourself charged with the crime.
Here’s what you need to know about arson and the penalties that can result if you are found guilty of it in Minnesota.
The Legal Definition of Arson
In Minnesota, arson is defined as a fire that is intentionally set. It also encompasses explosives that damage property with fire. Even setting fires on your own property can be considered arson.
While arson is a crime that involves intent, it can also be a crime that someone is accused of out of gross negligence. If you start a fire and it blazes out of control, then the law considers that arson as well. That’s why a fire you start can land you in some serious legal trouble, even if you didn’t mean to damage property or hurt anyone when you started the blaze.
Degrees of Arson in Minnesota
Under Minnesota law, there isn’t simply one type of arson a person can be charged with – there are actually five separate degrees.
Fifth Degree Arson
Fifth-degree arson is charged if a fire was intentionally set on any personal or real property of value. It’s the least serious degree of arson and is charged as a misdemeanor. The penalties for fifth-degree arson are up to three months in jail and fines of as much as $1,000.
Fourth Degree Arson
Fourth-degree arson can be charged if the fire is intentionally set on personal property in a public building or multiple unit residences and the threshold for the crime does not meet more serious arson charges. It is a gross misdemeanor.
The penalties for this degree of arson, if found guilty, are up to 12 months in jail and fines of as much as $3,000.
Third Degree Arson
Intentionally setting fire to property that is valued between $300 and $1,000, or if property was destroyed intentionally and damage to it could have been reasonably foreseen, then third-degree arson is charged.
If convicted of this degree of arson, you can face up to five years in prison and be responsible for fines up to $10,000.
Second Degree Arson
Setting fire intentionally to property worth more than $1,000 is second-degree arson.
Second-degree arson can result in as many as 10 years in prison and fines of as much as $20,000.
First Degree Arson
Setting fire to a dwelling, whether anyone was present at the time or could have been reasonably believed to be present at the time the fire was set, is first-degree arson.
If convicted of this most serious degree of arson, a person can be sentenced to as many as 20 years in prison and face fines up to $35,000.
An experienced Minnesota criminal attorney can help you to navigate the case against you. In most circumstances, showing a judge or jury that you were not the cause of the fire is the best defense, but others have been known to work as well.
About the Author:
Andrew T. Poole is a Minnesota native who has served in the Army for more than 18 years and is currently a JAG lawyer in the Army Reserves in addition to serving as a partner at LaCourse, Poole & Envall. He has handled thousands of criminal and family law cases over the course of his career and has a firm belief that all hardworking Minnesotans should be entitled to the best possible legal counsel. Mr. Poole boasts a 10/10 Superb rating on Avvo, is Lead Counsel rated, and has been recognized multiple times by SuperLawyers, National Trial Lawyers, and others for his work.