The legal definition of arson in the New York penal code is fairly close to the common definition. It consists of intentionally damaging property without the consent of the property owner by setting a fire or causing an explosion. If you do this, you will be charged with arson in the fifth degree. It is a Class A misdemeanor. N.Y. Pen. Law § 150.01.
In addition to the misdemeanor charge in the fifth degree, there are four felony arson charges in New York: arson in the fourth degree, third degree, second degree and first degree.
Arson in the fourth degree and arson in the third degree
If you recklessly damage a building or vehicle by intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion, then the charge will be arson in the fourth degree. It is a Class E felony. N.Y. Pen. Law § 150.05. Recklessness means that when you started the fire or caused the explosion you were aware that there was a substantial risk that the building or vehicle would be damaged, but you ignored that risk. N.Y. Pen. Law § 15.05(3). If convicted of arson in the fourth degree the maximum prison sentence is 4 years.
The only difference between arson in the fourth degree and arson in the third degree is that third degree arson involves intentionally damaging the building or vehicle, while fourth degree involves doing so recklessly. Third degree arson is a Class C felony. N.Y. Pen. Law § 150.10. The maximum prison sentence is 15 years.
Arson in the second degree
If you commit an act of arson and you know that there is a good chance that someone is in the building or vehicle, then you will be charged with arson in the second degree. It does not matter if the person is injured or not. The mere fact that you had reason to know that some was in the building or vehicle when you caused the fire or explosion is enough for an arson in the second degree charge. It is a Class B felony. N.Y. Pen. Law § 150.20. If you are convicted you could be sent to prison for up to 25 years.
Arson in the first degree
Arson in the first degree is the most serious arson charge. Along with murder and kidnapping it is one of a handful of charges in New York that is a Class A-1 felony. This means that if convicted you could spend the rest of your life in prison. Under NYPL § 150.20, arson will be considered so heinous that the charge will be first degree arson if one of three aggravating factors exists:
• The incendiary device was thrown into the building are vehicle
• An explosive was used
• The explosion or fire causes serious physical injury
• The arson was perpetrated for financial gain
• There was someone in the building or vehicle at the time of the arson and you had reason to know that someone could possibly be in the building
Arson is considered by society and law enforcement alike as a very serious crime. If you are convicted, in addition to possibly spending several years in prison, you may also be required to pay restitution to reimburse the property owner for the damages caused by the fire or explosion. For this reason, if you are charged with arson it is crucial that you contact an experienced New York arson lawyer who will mount a vigorous defense to all charges against you.