If you’ve been arrested for arson in New Jersey, you face some potentially serious penalties. Arson is the term used when someone deliberately starts a destructive fire or causes an explosion, but there are different “levels” or degrees of severity to the charges.
Here’s what you need to know about arson:
First degree arson
The most serious charge, arson in the first degree, is reserved for cases involving arson for hire or whenever a place of worship is targeted. If convicted, you will likely serve 10 to 20 years in prison. If the arson involves a church, mosque, synagogue or other place of worship, you must serve 15 years without any chance of parole.
Also called second degree arson, aggravated arson is also a very significant charge. It can involve a fire or explosion on your own property or another’s when any of the following is true:
- You knowingly or intentionally put someone else in danger.
- You intended to destroy someone’s property.
- You intended to collect insurance money on the property.
- You were trying to avoid complying with a zoning or planning ordinance.
- You purposefully damaged a forest.
Prison sentences can range from five to 10 years in prison, but you must serve 85% of whatever term you are handed without parole.
Third degree arson
This is the kind of arson that is associated with reckless behavior that endangers others or property — like throwing gasoline on a bonfire to cause an explosion because it seemed fun at the time. If convicted, you could serve up to five years in prison.
Fourth degree arson
This is associated with failing to control or prevent a fire when you have an obligation to do so. For example, starting a campfire in a secluded area and then walking off without making sure that it is properly doused and ashed. You could face up to 18 months in jail.
An arson charge can often be reduced to a lesser charge with negotiation, and there are defenses available. However, it’s important to act swiftly and seek the help of an experienced attorney.