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The importance of intent in an arson case

On Behalf of | Jul 19, 2023 | Federal Crimes

It’s hard to overlook the amount of damage a fire can cause. Although fires can start for many reasons, if police arrest an arson suspect at the scene, the suspect may have difficulties denying their involvement. However, their intent can determine how heavy their punishment will be.

What does Texas consider arson?

In Texas, arson is the act of deliberately starting a fire or causing an explosion with the “intent to destroy or damage property”. Setting a fire ablaze to destroy vegetation, fence or structure on open-space land, as well as someone else’s building, home, or vehicle, may qualify as arson.

It is also a criminal offense to recklessly start a fire or explosion that endangers the life of another person or another individual’s property.

However, starting a fire on purpose is not always a crime. It is not arson to start a fire or explosion within the city’s limits if the individual has written authorization to do so or if it is part of a controlled burning of open-space land.

How intent plays a role in arson cases

There are several reasons why someone would start a fire. Jealousy, anger and spite are common motivators in arson cases. Sometimes the goal is to seek revenge, but other times it’s to perform vandalism, commit insurance fraud or cover up a crime.

Intent helps a prosecutor establish whether a criminal act was committed or if the fire was an accident. To prove arson in the case of an accidental fire, the prosecution would have to show that the suspect recklessly endangered people or their property.

Moreover, intent also helps determine punishment. Arson charges are still possible even if there was no property damage or if the fire did not continue after ignition. But penalties for an accidental fire are less severe than the penalties for willfully causing damage.

Felony arson convictions carry thousands of dollars in penalties and years in jail. An arson charge is not something to take lightly. It will take careful evidence gathering, investigations, and an experienced attorney to mount a compelling defense against arson.