A conviction for arson anywhere in New Jersey, including in Union County, can have devastating consequences for both your immediate life circumstances and your long-term future. First of all, since arson is always classified as a felony-level crime, you will be subject to penalties that include years in prison and fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Making matters worse for defendants in these cases is that NJ prosecutors are notoriously reluctant to offer plea deals that allow for probation. This means that if you are convicted of arson or plead guilty to an arson charge, you will very likely have to serve a substantial prison sentence. Likewise, there are facts and circumstances that significantly enhance arson crimes and the associated penalties. For instance, if someone is injured or placed in danger of imminent injury due to the act, a precarious legal situation becomes significantly worse.
Have you or a loved one been charged with arson? Our firm exclusively handles criminal charges like arson and aggravated arson and we are here to assist with your defense. Our lawyers defend clients accused of committing arson throughout Union County, including in Scotch Plains, Linden, Cranford, Mountainside, Clark, Hillside, Kenilworth, and Elizabeth. To discuss your case and get answers to your pressing questions before deciding how to handle it, call (908) 838-0150 for a free consultation. You can also send us a message to get in touch with a seasoned criminal defense attorney who can help protect your best interests.
Understanding Arson and Aggravated Arson in New Jersey
Arson is one of the most serious offenses covered in the New Jersey criminal code. The offense is specifically addressed by statute N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1, which divides arson into two categories: ordinary arson and aggravated arson.
Basic Arson Charge
The ordinary charge for arson typically involves a defendant who purposely starts a fire or causes an explosion in one of the following circumstances:
The defendant recklessly placed someone else in danger of death or bodily injury, which means that the defendant might not have intended to cause injury with the fire
The defendant recklessly put a building or structure at risk of property damage or destruction
The defendant intended to commit insurance fraud and to collect money for property damage caused by the fire
The defendant purposely damaged property as a way to avoid zoning laws or ordinances
The defendant’s actions recklessly put a forest at risk of damage or destruction
Upgraded Charges for Aggravated Arson
Aggravated arson will be the charge if the defendant is accused of starting a fire or causing an explosion in any of the following circumstances:
When the defendant purposely or knowingly placed someone else in danger of death or bodily injury
When the defendant purposely destroyed a building or structure that belongs to someone else
When the defendant intended to collect insurance money for the property damage caused by the fire and in doing so the defendant recklessly exposed someone else to risk of death or bodily injury
When the defendant purposely damaged property in order to get around zoning laws or ordinances and in doing so the defendant recklessly exposed someone else to risk of death or bodily injury
When the defendant’s purpose was to destroy or damage any forest
One of the main differences between an ordinary arson charge and an aggravated arson charge is that aggravated arson typically requires the prosecution to prove an “intent” element. Specifically, the prosecutor will need to show that you actually meant to jeopardize the life or well-being of another person when you started the fire. By contrast, your intent might not matter when it comes to a typical arson charge. This is because the NJ criminal code stipulates that a person can be charged with arson if they either intentionally “or recklessly” started a fire. In other words, you may not have intended for a fire to get out of hand and cause so much damage, but your negligence and failure to anticipate the harm caused may be enough for prosecutors to charge you with arson under the criminal statute.
How Long does Someone go to Jail for Arson in NJ?
As set forth by N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1, arson is always considered a felony offense in New Jersey. Felonies are known as indictable crimes under the New Jersey criminal code. This means that a person charged with arson or aggravated arson must first be indicted by a grand jury. After an indictment has been issued, the case is then sent to the superior court located in the county where the arson offense allegedly occurred. So, if you have been arrested and charged with arson in Union County, your case will be sent to Union County Superior Court to be litigated or otherwise disposed of. The grades of the various charges for arson in New Jersey can be broken down as follows:
First Degree Felony: A person can be charged with a first degree crime if they hired someone else to commit arson, or if they are the person who was hired to commit arson. First degree arson charges also apply when the site of the arson was a church, synagogue, temple, or other religious place of worship. 10-20 years in prison is the possible sentence.
Second Degree Crime: Second degree arson is also known as “aggravated arson.” Generally speaking, a person may be charged with second degree aggravated arson if they knowingly start a fire with the intent to cause bodily injury to someone else or to destroy someone else’s property. A conviction could result in 5-10 years in prison.
Third Degree Criminal Offense: A person can be charged with third degree arson if they recklessly started a fire that created a heightened risk of bodily injury or property destruction. These charges may be punished by 3-5 years of incarceration.
Fourth Degree Charges: Fourth degree arson-related charges can be filed against firefighters, police officers, and other first responders who fail to take reasonable action to report a fire, prevent a fire, or stop a fire. A presumption of non-incarceration allows for more options, but up to 18 months’ imprisonment is allowed by law.
The most serious criminal charge covered by the arson statute is first degree arson, and the most serious variation of a first degree arson charge involves the intentional burning of a church or other place of worship. In these cases, the law provides for an enhanced penalty that includes a minimum mandatory term of incarceration of 15 years before the convicted offender will become eligible for release on parole.
Defense Attorneys for Clients Charged with Arson in Elizabeth NJ
Arson is one of the most serious criminal charges that a person can face in New Jersey. Not only could you be facing a lengthy prison sentence on the basis of arson accusations, but you may also be subject to additional penalties if other criminal charges are filed against you in connection with the arson. For instance, insurance fraud is a common offense accompanying arson. The seriousness of this situation demands that you speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A qualified criminal lawyer can potentially help you fight your arson charges and stay out of prison. Your defense may require lab testing and inspection of evidence, analysis of the chain of custody with respect to evidence being used by the prosecution, tough cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, and expert testimony about the nature of the fire and the likelihood that it was set intentionally.
If you are under investigation for setting a fire or enlisting someone else’s help to do so, the best decision you can make right now is to speak with an attorney who knows how to defend clients against arson charges in New Jersey. A conviction could permanently alter the course of your life and your family’s life, so protecting yourself from day one is crucial. Contact (908) 838-0150 for a free consultation with a defense lawyer today.
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