Arson

What Does the District Attorney Have to Prove to Secure a Conviction for Arson?

Arson is a serious crime, and a conviction can result in up to twenty years in prison. If you have been charged with arson, you have been accused of burning or setting fire to a building or causing a building to be burned. The prosecutor is required to prove that some part of the building was burned, but not that the building was completely burned or consumed in its entirety. In order to be convicted of arson, the Commonwealth must prove that the building was a dwelling house or a building adjoining or adjacent to a dwelling house or that the burning of a building resulted in the burning of a dwelling house. A dwelling house includes homes, apartments, dormitories, hospitals or any building in which individuals live or reside. The Commonwealth must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted willfully and with malice. You can be convicted of arson regardless of whether the building was your property or that of someone else and regardless of whether or not the building was occupied. You can be convicted of arson if you helped or secured another person to commit the crime. Thus, you can be convicted even if you did not directly participate.

The defendant’s conduct that resulted in the burning must be “willful” which means it was done intentionally and not by accident. Accidentally burning or setting fire to a building or causing a building to be burned is not arson. The prosecutor must prove that you acted willfully and maliciously. The prosecutor is not required to prove that you acted with cruelty or hostility towards the building’s owner, but he or she must prove that all of the acts were done with an evil or wrong purpose or disposition.

How Does the Government Prove this Charge?

Proof of arson is frequently based on circumstantial evidence because fire naturally consumes most of the evidence in its path. For example, evidence that you were in the building shortly before the fire may be sufficient to prove that you set the fire. Arson cases often center on the testimony of competing expert witnesses. These cases carry a high risk of miscarriage of justice because powerful insurance companies are sometimes financially motivated to find arson in order to avoid paying claims.

What Type of Defense Can Be Presented for This Type of Charge?

The type of defense that can be asserted always depends on the facts of the case. If there were no eyewitnesses, then a defense of “it was not me” should always be considered. A timeline of the defendant’s activities relative to the day of the incident should be established to determine whether an “alibi” defense is appropriate. Alibi simply means that the defendant was not at the place of the crime when it was committed. This defense is strong if unbiased witnesses can support the defendant’s claim in this area. Finally, if there are eyewitnesses, then any motive that they have to testify against the defendant and/or the lack of opportunity the witness had to view the incident should be exposed.

District attorneys vigorously prosecute arson because it is a dangerous and violent offense, and given the severity of the potential punishment, it is essential that you immediately contact an experienced and aggressive criminal defense attorney if you are charged with this crime. Kathleen M. McCarthy has nearly 30 years of experience providing clients with the hard-hitting defense that they need. She can easily access and engage a fire expert whose investigation will be critical to proving your innocence. If you or a loved one has been charged with arson or any other crime in Massachusetts, call Attorney McCarthy now at 978-975-8060 or click here to send an e-mail. She will respond quickly, and she will tirelessly investigate and prepare your defense as soon as you hire her. Do not wait.