Arson Crimes in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Tampa


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Simply put, arson is the intentional destruction of property by fire. Although not as common as other classes of property crimes, such as criminal mischief, theft, or burglary, it occurs in the Tampa Bay area with at least some frequency and is prosecuted very aggressively when it does.

Arson is one of the most serious property crimes on the books. The risk of death or serious injury to another person is obvious, even where the targeted dwelling or structure is not occupied. Also, the resulting property damage is usually plenary.

Florida law draws a distinction between "arson in the first degree" and "arson in the second degree". Arson in the first degree involves
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the willful and unlawful damaging, by fire or explosion, any dwelling or structure where persons are normally present. A person may also be prosecuted for arson in the first degree if he or she damages the contents of a dwelling or structure by the same means. A "dwelling" includes, for example, a house, townhouse, condominium, apartment, or trailer. A "structure", for purposes of the statute, includes a detached garage, a shed, tent, vehicle, boat, or aircraft. It does not matter whether the dwelling or structure was actually occupied at the time the crime was committed.

Arson in the first degree is a first degree felony, which is punishable by up to thirty years in prison. It is a level 8 offense on Florida's sentencing guidelines, which results in a mandatory prison sentence upon conviction, unless there is a valid, lawful basis to depart from the guideline score.

Arson in the second degree involves the willful and unlawful damage to a structure by fire or explosion under any other circumstances. Practically speaking, a person will be charged with arson in the second degree where he or she damages a structure by fire, and without reasonable grounds to believe it was occupied by another person. It does not matter whether the property damaged belonged to the accused or to another. Arson in the second degree is a second degree felony, which is punishable by up to fifteen years in state prison. It is a level 7 offense which, like arson in the first degree, will result in a mandatory sentence upon conviction.

Arson crimes are usually investigated by the Division of the State Fire Marshall, Bureau of Arson and Fire Investigations. In a prosecution for arson, the state will list an expert (usually the investigator) who will give an opinion as to the cause, origin and circumstances of the fire. More specifically, the state expert will testify that the fire was caused deliberately, and then articulate his or her reasons for arriving at that conclusion. As part of the investigation and prosecution of arson crimes, the state will usually look to develop a motive, particularly where the identity of the perpetrator is at issue. The state will also carefully examine the crime scene to support its theory that the fire was not caused accidentally. This usually involves an attempt to detect the use of accelerants such as gasoline or explosives.

If you have been arrested or charged with arson, you should consult with an experienced Tampa Bay area criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, and preferably, one who has experience in these types of cases.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Donald Kilfin, The Kilfin Law Firm, P.C.
Attorney Donald J. Kilfin is a former Pinellas county state prosecutor. He owns and operates The Kilfin Law Firm, P.C., a Tampa Bay area DUI and criminal defense firm representing clients in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, New Port Richey, Dade City, and Bradenton.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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