Why intent matters with arson charges

On Behalf of | Aug 29, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Arson is the process of intentionally setting a piece of property on fire. This can be done for many reasons. Some will simply do it as a criminal act, some may do it as part of an altercation with another individual, and some are even accused of doing so simply to profit off of the insurance money. It’s certainly true that structure fires also happen accidentally, but intentional ones are prohibited by law.

What this means is that the role of that intent is very important in any arson case. It’s not illegal – though it may be negligent – to accidentally start a fire. It is just illegal to intentionally do so with nefarious means. There are cases in which someone may be accused of arson and they may not deny that the fire took place or that they were involved, but they may simply say that it was an accident, not a criminal event.

How can intent be proven?

In order to prove intent, the authorities will often look for the presence of accelerants. An example of this could simply be gasoline. If it seems like an accelerant was used to cause the fire to spread quickly, or just to get the flames ignited in the first place, then it’s likely that the person knew what they were doing and did so on purpose.

But even then, there is the chance that the incident could still be an accident. For instance, maybe someone used accelerants to start a brushfire. It got out of control and set their neighbor’s home on fire. Accelerants were used, and they did start that fire intentionally, but it’s not a case of arson because they never meant to cause such a catastrophe.

Arson cases can become very complex, especially when the authorities claim that someone had the intent to start the fire and that person claims it was purely an accident or an unfortunate situation. Those who find themselves in this position need to understand all of their legal defense options.