Common-law arson, according to North Carolina law, is defined as the willful and malicious burning of another’s dwelling. Burning occurs if any part of the dwelling is consumed, even a small part. In other words, the dwelling need not be completely consumed or even materially damaged for arson to have occurred. A dwelling is a home that is inhabited by a person or persons. If a person lives, dwells, stays, resides, or rests in the home, it is considered inhabited for the purposes of defining arson. All types of homes can be considered dwellings as long as they are inhabited. Notably, arson can occur even if a person’s actual house is not burned. In other words, if the burning occurs within the yard around the dwelling or the nearby area occupied by other buildings, commonly referred to as the “curtilage,” an arson has still occurred. Finally, in order for an arson to happen, the person must burn the dwelling of another (i.e., not his or her own home).Charges for Committing Arson
North Carolina law recognizes two degrees of arson - first and second degree. If at the time of the burning, the dwelling was occupied, the offense is first degree arson. First degree arson is a class D felony under North Carolina law. On the other hand, if at the time the arson occurred, the dwelling was not occupied, then the offense is second degree arson. Second degree arson is a class G felony under North Carolina law. The reason for the different levels of felony charges, and punishment based on the charge, is to protect those who may be inside the home from danger. Someone who commits arson in the first degree (i.e., when the dwelling is occupied at the time of the burning) faces anywhere between 28 to 160 months of prison time. Someone who commits arson in the second degree (i.e., when the dwelling is unoccupied at the time of the burning) faces anywhere between eight to 31 months in prison.Other Types of Burnings
There are several types of criminal acts that do not fall under the category of a common-law arson, but are still punishable under North Carolina law. Specifically, the burning of:
- Personal property: Willfully setting fire to personal property with the intent to prejudice or injure the insurer is a class H felony punishable by four to eight months of prison time;
- Other buildings: Willfully setting fire or burning a building that does not fall under another statue is a class H felony punishable by four to eight months of prison time;
- Certain public buildings: Willfully setting fire or burning the Justice Building, State Capitol, Legislative Building, or any other building owned or occupied by the state, county, incorporated city, town, or other governmental or quasi-governmental entity is a class F felony, punishable by 10 to 41 months of prison time;
- School houses or educational institution buildings: Willfully setting fire or burning a school house or another building owned or leased or used by a private or public school, a college, or other educational institution is a class F felony;
- Certain buildings or bridges: Willfully setting fire or burning any private toll bridge, public bridge, fire-engine house, rescue-squad building, or another house belonging to incorporated or unincorporated association is a class F felony;
- Churches or other religious buildings: Willfully setting fire or burning a chapel, meeting house, or church is a class E felony, punishable by 15 to 63 months in prison;
- Boats and barges: The willful and wanton burning or setting fire of any barge, ferry, float or boat without the owner’s consent is a class H felony punishable by four to eight months of prison time.
As can be seen, arson or not, the state of North Carolina takes the burning of structures in Iredell County seriously. More often than not, property damage caused by arson or another type of burning is committed by someone who is angry. Unfortunately, sometimes an accidental burning can look like an intentional act. All of these issues can factor into the outcome of a case involving arson or other burning charges. For this reason, if you are facing these charges, you should have an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to ensure both the judge and jury understand the unique facts and circumstances surrounding your case.Criminal Defense Help
If you or someone you know has been charged with arson, contact an experienced Monroe based criminal defense attorney right away. The skilled attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC have fought on behalf of North Carolina criminal defendants for years and can fight for you, too. Contact (704) 370-2828 today to schedule your initial case evaluation with one of our lawyers.