ARSON / MALICIOUS BURNING LAW IN VIRGINIA

Malicious Burning is the charge for criminal arson under Virginia law. Malicious burning of an occupied dwelling is a Felony offense punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

We strongly recommend that you contact us immediately if charged with any Malicious Burning offense in Alexandria, Fairfax, or Arlington.


VIRGINIA ARSON PENALTIES

When the fire was set to an occupied dwelling (which tends to be a home or an apartment building), or a church, and whether you are responsible for the burning or you aided or procured the burning, the penalty is between 5 years and life in prison. Any other occupied building carries a prison sentence between 5 and 20 years in prison.

If the object was an unoccupied dwelling or church, the penalty is between 2 and 10 years in prison. Any other unoccupied building (if valued above $200), the penalty is between 2 and 10 years in prison. If the unoccupied building was worth less than $200, the penalty can be up to 12 months in jail.

A fire created during the commission of a felony carries a penalty between 2 and 10 years in prison.

Setting personal property on fire, which has a value of $200 or more, when destroyed maliciously or with intent to defraud, carries a penalty between 2 and 10 years in prison. Setting personal property on fire, which has a value less than $200, when destroyed maliciously or with intent to defraud, carries a penalty of up to 12 months in jail.

Carelessly causing a brush fire only carries a fine, but no jail penalty. Setting fire to woods, grass, or fence without malicious intent carries a penalty with up to 12 months in jail. Setting fire to woods, grass, fence, or land maliciously carries a penalty between 1 and 5 years in prison.

Threatening or causing false communication of a fire carries a penalty between 1 and 1- years in prison for an adult above the age of 15 (the sentence is up to 12 months in jail if the offender is under the age of 15).


VIRGINIA LAW: STANDARD OF PROOF

TO CONVICT YOU OF MALICIOUS BURNING, prosecutors must prove: (1) that the fire was started intentionally, (2) that the accused individual was the one to start the fire, and (3) that the accused individual acted with malicious intent. Each of these 3 elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

First requirement: The fire was started intentionally, not accidentally.

The cause of the fire and whether it was accidental or intentional is determined by expert analysis of the burn area. These experts must have undergone special training and have the requisite knowledge for analyzing fire causes. The investigators follow the scientific method of analysis, in addition to chemical and substance analysis. They also gather and preserve evidence of any causes of the fire. Investigators must follow NFPA 921 guidelines in their investigation, along with our Constitutional laws of proper search and seizure and Miranda rights. Virginia law presumes that the fire was accidental in nature. The government must present evidence and scientific analysis to overcome this presumption and show that in fact the fire was started deliberately in order to prove this element. In fact, the fire analysis expert must testify that the fire was of incendiary origin and that there is not a single reasonable possibility that the fire was accidental. The science and chemistry involved in a fire investigation is rather complex and requires a full scientific understanding by your lawyer before your lawyer can tactically question your accusers and properly defend you against these accusations in a courtroom.

Second requirement: The accused individual started the fire.

There is normally little evidence to point directly to an individual as the cause of the fire. In order to convict under these circumstances, the government must prove that all other reasonable factors of the accused person’s innocence were properly excluded and no other reasonable conclusion may be drawn from the facts. Nonetheless, the evidence required in Virginia is so strong that the courts refer to the standard of proof as requiring the evidence to “point unerringly” to the accused individual as the intentional doer. Unerringly is a very strong choice of words for a case which requires a general beyond a reasonable doubt standard to begin with. The courts look at the chain of necessary circumstances “of motive, time, place, means, and conduct [to] concur to form an unbroken chain which links [the accused] to the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” The evidence in an arson case must be extremely tight to merit a conviction under Virginia law.

Third requirement: The accused individual started the fire with malicious intent.

Malicious intent is the most difficult element for the prosecutor to prove, as the government must show the accused person’s state of mind at the time of the offense. Virginia court defines malice of the mind as follows: “the doing of a wrongful act intentionally, or without just cause or excuse, or as a result of ill will. It may be directly evidenced by words, or inferred from acts and conduct which necessarily result in injury.” The accused must have wanted a result that the law considers unlawful when he acted, even if he didn’t intend for the specific outcome.


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This article is written by Virginia arson and malicious burning defense attorney Marina Medvin, an award-winning criminal defense lawyer serving Alexandria, Fairfax and Arlington, VA. She successfully represents individuals charged with malicious burning and arson crimes in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Vienna and Falls Church. In addition to her Juris Doctorate degree, Ms. Medvin has a Bachelor of Science Honors Degree from Penn State, where she graduated in the Top 10% of her class. Both a legal and a science background are recommended for the defense of Virginia malicious burning cases because of the scientific and chemical analysis evidence that will be presented against the defendant at trial. If charged with an arson crime in Northern Virginia, call us for a Virginia malicious burning attorney for a consultation.



Virginia Laws Punishing Arson

§ 18.2-77. Burning or destroying dwelling house, etc. A. If any person maliciously (i) burns, or by use of any explosive device or substance destroys, in whole or in part, or causes to be burned or destroyed, or (ii) aids, counsels or procures the burning or destruction of any dwelling house or manufactured home whether belonging to himself or another, or any occupied hotel, hospital, mental health facility, or other house in which persons usually dwell or lodge, any occupied railroad car, boat, vessel, or river craft in which persons usually dwell or lodge, or any occupied jail or prison, or any occupied church or occupied building owned or leased by a church that is immediately adjacent to a church, he shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for life or for any period not less than five years and, subject to subdivision g of § 18.2-10, a fine of not more than $100,000. Any person who maliciously sets fire to anything, or aids, counsels or procures the setting fire to anything, by the burning whereof such occupied dwelling house, manufactured home, hotel, hospital, mental health facility or other house, or railroad car, boat, vessel, or river craft, jail or prison, church or building owned or leased by a church that is immediately adjacent to a church, is burned shall be guilty of a violation of this subsection. B. Any such burning or destruction when the building or other place mentioned in subsection A is unoccupied, shall be punishable as a Class 4 felony.


§ 18.2-79. Burning or destroying meeting house, etc. If any person maliciously burns, or by the use of any explosive device or substance, maliciously destroys, in whole or in part, or causes to be burned or destroyed, or aids, counsels, or procures the burning or destroying, of any meeting house, courthouse, townhouse, college, academy, schoolhouse, or other building erected for public use except an asylum, hotel, jail, prison or church or building owned or leased by a church that is immediately adjacent to a church, or any banking house, warehouse, storehouse, manufactory, mill, or other house, whether the property of himself or of another person, not usually occupied by persons lodging therein at night, at a time when any person is therein, or if he maliciously sets fire to anything, or causes to be set on fire, or aids, counsels, or procures the setting on fire of anything, by the burning whereof any building mentioned in this section is burned, at a time when any person is therein, he shall be guilty of a Class 3 felony. If such offense is committed when no person is in such building mentioned in this section, the offender shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony.


§ 18.2-80. Burning or destroying any other building or structure. If any person maliciously, or with intent to defraud an insurance company or other person, burn, or by the use of any explosive device or substance, maliciously destroy, in whole or in part, or cause to be burned or destroyed, or aid, counsel or procure the burning or destruction of any building, bridge, lock, dam or other structure, whether the property of himself or of another, at a time when any person is therein or thereon, the burning or destruction whereof is not punishable under any other section of this chapter, he shall be guilty of a Class 3 felony. If he commits such offense at a time when no person is in such building, or other structure, and such building, or other structure, with the property therein, be of the value of $200, or more, he shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony, and if it and the property therein be of less value, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.


§ 18.2-81. Burning or destroying personal property, standing grain, etc. If any person maliciously, or with intent to defraud an insurance company or other person, set fire to or burn or destroy by any explosive device or substance, or cause to be burned, or destroyed by any explosive device or substance, or aid, counsel, or procure the burning or destroying by any explosive device or substance, of any personal property, standing grain or other crop, he shall, if the thing burnt or destroyed, be of the value of $200 or more, be guilty of a Class 4 felony; and if the thing burnt or destroyed be of less value, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.


§ 18.2-82. Burning building or structure while in such building or structure with intent to commit felony. If any person while in any building or other structure unlawfully, with intent to commit a felony therein, shall burn or cause to be burned, in whole or in part, such building or other structure, the burning of which is not punishable under any other section of this chapter, he shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony.

 

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