While considered a property offense, arson is a much more serious crime due to the real danger that it could cause a victim to suffer injuries or be killed. Arson is charged as a felony in North Carolina and carries harsh penalties upon conviction. You need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you build a strong defense if you have been charged with this crime in Charlotte.
First Degree Arson
Arson is a common law crime in our state. It can be charged as either first or second degree arson. First degree arson is the more serious type of arson and is the intentional burning of another’s dwelling that is occupied at the time of the arson. The following elements of the crime must be proven:
- A structure was burned.
- The structure was a dwelling house.
- The structure was a dwelling house of a person other than the person accused of the crime.
- The dwelling house was occupied by someone other than the accused at the time of the burning.
- The accused committed the arson maliciously, which is intentionally and without justification or excuse, and burned the dwelling house or another structure and this caused the fire to spread to the dwelling structure.
First degree arson is a Class D felony. If convicted, a person could be sentenced to 38 to 60 months in prison depending on his prior convictions. Some actual time in prison is mandatory.
Second Degree Arson
A person would be charged with second degree arson if the structure was not occupied at the time of the burning. All the remaining elements of first degree arson would have to be proven.
Second degree arson is a Class G felony. It can be punished by a prison sentence of 8 to 31 months. Unlike first degree arson, an active jail sentence is not required. A person who has no prior convictions may be sentenced to an intermediate sentence instead.
What Is Considered Burning?
Burning is defined broadly under the law to include any small burning of the structure. It is not required that the fire totally destroyed the dwelling. Slight charring may be sufficient for someone to be charged with arson. However, setting the structure on fire is not the same as burning it and is not considered arson.
What Constitutes a Dwelling House?
A dwelling house is defined as a house that a person dwells, lives, resides, stay, or rests in. The definition includes mobile homes, manufactured-type homes, and recreational trailer homes. The yard around a dwelling and outbuildings, such as a barn or garage, are also considered part of a dwelling.
In order to be inhabited, someone must occupy it but does not need to do so permanently. Temporary or seasonal occupation of the structure is sufficient.
When Is a Dwelling Considered Occupied by Another Person?
While the dwelling must be inhabited by another person, the accused can also reside in the structure and may be the sole owner of it. For example, if his spouse and children live in the dwelling with him, the accused can be charged with arson if he burns the dwelling. He can also be charged with this crime if he is the landlord and burns a home that he rents to a tenant. In a multi-vehicle structure, a person can be charged with arson for burning his own apartment as long as at least one other unit in the building is occupied.
Can a Dwelling House Be Considered Occupied If the Person Is Deceased?
North Carolina courts have ruled that a person can be found guilty of arson if the occupant of the dwelling is deceased at the time of the arson. This applies to a situation where the victim is killed and the dwelling is burned soon after. Although the victim would have been deceased at the time of the burning, the dwelling house would be considered occupied.
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