Overview of Arizona Arson Law

arson law in arizonaArson is an unique crime in criminal law that happens much more often than most people think. This blogpost will provide a brief overview of Arizona statutes that govern arson law and the punishment for being convicted of arson in Arizona.

Arson in Arizona is defined in Arizona Revised Statues §13-1703. Arson of a structure or property is committed when a person knowingly and unlawfully damages a structure or property by knowingly causing a fire or explosion.

“Structure” is defined as any building, object, vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, or place with sides and a floor, used for lodging, business, transportation, recreation or storage. “Property” is defined as anything other than a structure which has value, tangible or intangible, public or private, real or personal, including documents evidencing value or ownership.

Arson is a serious crime. It is a felony in Arizona. Arson of a structure is a class 4 felony with a minimum prison term of 18 months. Arson of property (worth more than $1,000), is a minimum prison term of 18 months. Arson of property worth $100 – $1,000 is a class 5 felony with a minimum prison term of 9 months. Arson of property worth less than $100 is a class 1 misdemeanor, up to 6 months in prison, and three years of probation, and $2,500 fine plus any surcharges.

What is Reckless Burning?

Arizona also has a crime called reckless burning. Reckless burning is committed when a person recklessly causes a fire or explosion which a person recklessly causes a fire or explosion which results in damage to an occupied structure, structure, wildland, or property. Note the difference between arson and reckless burning. Arson requires a person to knowingly commit the offense, while reckless burning of course only requires a person to act recklessly.

Arson of an occupied structure is a class 2 felony with a minimum prison term of 4 years. Burning of wildlands, if done with negligence, is a class 2 misdemeanor, up to 4 months in prison, 2 years probation, and a $750 fine plus surcharges. If done recklessly, it is a class 1 misdemeanor, up to 6 months in prison, 3 years of probation, and a $2,500 fine. If done intentionally, it is a class 6 felony with a minimum of 1.5 years in prison.

Arizona statute also proscribes unlawful cross burning and unlawful symbol burning. Unlawful cross burning is a class 1 misdemeanor, up to 6 months in prison, 3 years probation, and a $2,500 fine. Unlawful symbol burning is a class 1 misdemeanor, up to 6 months in prison, 3 years of probation, and a $2,500 fine.

Arson crimes require a person to deliberately set fire to another person’s property or to their own. Typically, when a person intentionally sets fire to their home or vehicle, they are seeking an insurance payment. The best defense for arson is to claim there was not intent.

For arson cases, the police will use special arson investigators to determine the cause of the fire and whether they suspect criminal activity was involved. Investigators will look at how the fire spread, test for any accelerants, look for any tampered utilities, and burn patterns.

In Arizona, there were 1,016 arsons reported in 2017. Structural arson account for 390 offense, 38.4% of all arson offenses. Motor vehicle arson accounted for the highest, 164 with industrial/manufacturing arson was the lowest with 4 offenses. Estimated value of property damage amounted to over $11 million. 209 persons were arrested for arson in 2017 with juveniles accounting for 63 of the arrests.