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Understanding the authority of those who investigate fires

On Behalf of | Dec 26, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Fires that destroy property and injure or kill people are taken very seriously by law enforcement and firefighters. If a responding police and/or fire department suspects that a fire or explosion was deliberate, a deputy state fire marshal (DSFM) is likely to get involved almost immediately. Individuals can also directly request the assistance of a DSFM simply by calling 911 if they suspect that a fire was caused by arson. As we discussed in a recent post, arson involves “willful and malicious” burning of property. 

What many people don’t realize is that DSFMs are police officers as well as certified fire investigators even though they work for the Office of the State Fire Marshal. Most of their work involves investigating the cause of fires and explosions to determine if any criminal offenses were involved. This involves not just examining the scene and potential evidence from the scene. DSFMs can and do interrogate people. They also have the authority to make arrests.

When can they arrest someone without a warrant?

Under Maryland law, the state fire marshal or any of their deputies may arrest someone without a warrant if they have “probable cause to believe” that a person:

  • Has attempted to or has committed a felony, whether they witnessed it or not
  • May cause damage or injury
  • May tamper with or get rid of evidence (by disposing of it or destroying it)
  • “[M]ay not be apprehended” if they aren’t immediately placed under arrest

Most people aren’t aware of any of the authorities granted to DSFMs and others who investigate arson crimes. However, as you can see, it’s crucial that you take these investigators seriously if you are questioned by them.

If you believe you’re under investigation or you’ve already been arrested, it’s wise to get legal guidance as soon as possible to help you protect your rights.