When you hear the term arson, you probably picture someone intentionally setting fire to a home or business for revenge or insurance fraud purposes, but you may be surprised to learn that intent isn’t always necessary to be charged with a crime involving fire. If you are negligent with fire, you can be charged with arson if property damage occurs. Below, we take a closer look at the five degrees of arson in Minnesota and their penalties.
Arson in Minnesota
Here’s a breakdown of the five degrees of arson in Minnesota:
Arson in the Fifth Degree – A person can be charged with arson in the fifth degree if they intentionally set fire to, burn or cause to be burned any real or personal property of value. This is the least serious of the five degrees, and is considered a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines up to $1,000. The charges get more serious as the damage done by arson increases.
Arson in the Fourth Degree – A person can be charged with arson in the fourth degree if they intentionally set fire to, burn or cause to be burned any personal property in a multiple unit residential or public building, and the circumstances do not meet the threshold for first, second or third degree arson. This involves arson in buildings like a hotel, hospital, dorm, stadium, restaurant, school or church. It is considered a gross misdemeanor offense, publishable by up to a year in jail and fines up to $3,000.
Arson in the Third Degree – A person can be charged with arson in the third degree if they intentionally set fire to any person or property if:
- The property had a value of between $300 and $1,000; or
- The property was unintentionally destroyed, but damage could have been reasonably foreseen given the circumstances; or
This covers a small portion of arsons based on the amount of value that is destroyed, but it carries significant penalties. A third degree arson charge carries the potential of up to five years in jail and fines up to $10,000.
Arson in the Second Degree – A person can be charged with arson in the second degree if they intentionally set fire to any person or property if:
- The property damaged is valued at more than $1,000; and
- The crime does not meet the threshold of first degree arson.
Arson in the second degree is a felony offense punishable by up to to 10 years in prison and fines up to $20,000.
Arson in the First Degree – A person can be charged with arson in the first degree if they intentionally set fire to any building that:
- Is used as a dwelling or is connected to a dwelling, regardless of whether the occupants were home at the time of the crime.
- Has occupants or where it could be reasonably surmised people could be inside, even if it’s not a dwelling.
You can also be charged with first degree arson if you use certain accelerants to start the fire.
This felony level offense is punishable by up to 20 years in jail and fines up to $20,000 or $35,000 based on the circumstances of the crime.
Other Fire Crimes – A person can also be charged with the crime of wildfire arson or starting a negligent fire. If you start a fire in the woods that gets out of control, you can be charged with felony wildfire arson, which is punishable based on the amount of acres burned. You can be charged with starting a negligent fire if you start a fire that gets out of control and damages property or injures a person. For example, if you have a backyard fire on a windy day and it starts your neighbors shed on fire, you could be charged with starting a negligent fire, and the potential punishments vary based on the circumstances.
As you can see, fire crimes can get serious quickly, so make sure you talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer like Avery Appelman if you’ve been charged with arson or a related crime.