Generally speaking, crimes against people and crimes against property are two distinct categories. Maryland law can impose strict penalties on property crimes such as theft, but the harshest penalties are usually reserved for violent crimes against people.
Arson is a crime that can be committed against both property and people, and so it presents something of a special case. The penalties that go with a conviction on arson charges depend on a number of factors, including the value of the property damaged and whether any people were present in the affected property.
String of suspicious fires
Police in Maryland recently announced the arrest of a man they said was responsible for a string of suspicious fires going back almost 10 years. The suspect is the former chief of police for the town of Laurel, in northern Prince George’s County.
The man is accused of setting at least 12 fires in Maryland since 2011. According to a news report, investigators did not see any connection between the incidents until after a fire in Clarksburg last November. After that incident, investigators said they saw that all the victims were connected. All had been in disputes with the suspect.
The man now faces a long list of charges, including first-degree arson, second-degree arson. News reports did not mention any injuries connected to the fires, but since people were present in some of the buildings when the fires occurred, the man also faces eight counts of attempted murder.
Another unusual feature of arson cases involves the evidence. Obviously, evidence plays a crucial role in all criminal prosecutions, but in many cases the evidence in an arson case has been largely destroyed by fire. Prosecutors must rely on expert witnesses to analyze the wreckage and argue that the fire was deliberately set. Next, they must provide evidence that the defendant was the person responsible.
Everyone who has been accused of a crime deserves a defense. Defending against arson charges requires skilled handling of the evidence. The defendant must cast doubt on the prosecution’s case by showing alternative explanations for what started the fire and whether the defendant could be found responsible.