When a person is accused of a property crime like arson, they may think the charge isn’t that serious. After all, nobody was physically injured, and the arson only harmed the property. However, North Carolina prosecutors take arson crimes seriously, and those convicted can face serious penalties, including significant jail time.
If you’ve been charged with arson, attorney Joel Hancock is here to help you defend yourself. He will explain your rights and the potential penalties you are facing. After answering your questions, he will discuss your case’s available criminal defense strategies. He knows how to defend against serious criminal charges in state and federal courts throughout North Carolina.
First-Degree Arson Charges in North Carolina
The crime of arson involves any malicious, voluntary, and willful burning of someone else’s property. North Carolina criminal law categorizes arson into two degrees: first-degree and second-degree arson. First-degree arson occurs when the dwelling or building is burned while occupied by one or more people during the crime. First-degree arson is considered a Class D felony, with a prison sentence between 38 and 58 months for a first-time offense. The prosecution must prove the following factors to convict a defendant of first-degree arson:
- The defendant set the structure ablaze
- The burned structure was a dwelling house
- Another party owned the burned structure
- The defendant committed the arson crime with malicious intent and burned the structure
A dwelling house is defined as a place in which a person lives, dwells, resides, or stays. When occupied, recreational trailers, mobile homes, and manufactured homes can be considered dwelling houses.
Second-Degree Arson Charges in North Carolina
Second-degree arson is considered a Class G felony and occurs when a person burns a building or dwelling that was not occupied at the time of the arson. However, the offense is still considered a felony with tough penalties.
Burning an uninhabited structure isn’t technically considered arson because the building isn’t considered a dwelling. North Carolina’s arson laws distinguish between the types of buildings involved. North Carolina’s first-degree arson is considered a Class G Felony with a prison sentence of eight to sixteen months for first-time offenders. Burning a church or other religious structure may result in separate Class E felony charges.
Disorderly Conduct In and Injury to Public Buildings and Facilities
Disorderly conduct in and injury to public buildings and facilities is not considered arson but a related criminal charge. When a person damages public properties like government buildings, parks, and community centers, they can face Class 2 misdemeanor charges, which carry a jail sentence between 30 days and six months. Willful and wanton injury to real property is a Class 1 misdemeanor with a jail sentence of up to one year.
Class D Felony Charges for Arson
The most serious type of arson charge is considered a Class D felony. Violent crimes such as armed robbery, burglary, voluntary manslaughter, and murder, in addition to arson in the first degree, are high-level offenses.
Federal Arson Charges
Certain types of crimes, including arson, are illegal under state and federal law. Under federal law, intentionally burning property used in interstate or foreign commerce commits federal arson. Federal prosecutors could bring charges if the alleged arson affected property that crosses state or international boundaries. Setting federal property on fire is also considered a federal crime. Generally, the penalties for federal criminal arson offenses are between five to 20 years in prison, but defendants can receive more time behind bars in certain cases.
North Carolina’s Statute of Limitations for Arson
State law allows prosecutors a limited amount of time to bring charges against those accused of specific crimes. These time limits are referred to as the statute of limitations. There is a two-year statute of limitations on most misdemeanor-level crimes. However, North Carolina is one of the only states that does not place a time limitation for felony offenses or crimes classified as “malicious” misdemeanors, such as arson.
The Benefits of Hiring an Experienced Attorney When Fighting an Arson Charge
Arson crimes can destroy structures and others’ safety while jeopardizing victims’ lives. Arson can also destroy irreplaceable items and rob families of their memories in their homes. As a result, arson crimes evoke strong negative emotions, and defendants accused of this offense face an uphill battle defending themselves in court. It’s important that those accused of maliciously or fraudulently burning property or dwelling hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.
An attorney can help you protect your rights and begin investigating your case and gathering evidence supporting your legal defense. For example, if your rights were violated during the arrest or interrogation, your attorney may be able to petition the court to dismiss evidence against you.
Legal Defenses Against Arson Charges
Attorney Joel Hancock has significant experience building aggressive legal defense strategies for clients facing serious crimes like arson. After evaluating your case and investigating the prosecutor’s evidence against you, he can determine which legal defenses are the most strategic in your case. For example, you may be able to argue that the fire did not start with arson but started because of a separate cause.
In other cases, defendants can argue that the accusations against them are false because they have an alibi that places them in another location at the time of the alleged arson. If you’ve been charged with arson, you may be able to prove that you did not begin the fire with criminal intent. When prosecutors cannot prove that you intended to start the fire, they cannot convict you of arson in North Carolina.
Are You Facing Arson Charges in North Carolina? We Can Help
Attorney Joel Hancock has a proven track record of defending clients charged with serious crimes, including arson. When you’re charged with arson, your freedom may be in jeopardy. If convicted, you could face incarceration, fines, difficulty finding employment, and other penalties. When your future is on the line, it’s crucial that an experienced criminal defense attorney represents you. Contact attorney Joel Hancock to schedule a consultation and learn about how he can fight to protect your rights.