New Jersey Arson Criminal Defense

Arson is a very serious criminal charge in New Jersey, as are related offenses such as causing or risking widespread injury or damage and failing to report or control a dangerous fire. If you've been charged with any of these crimes, you could face stiff fines and considerable jail time. The best thing that you can do to prevent a conviction or reduce your charges is to consult with an experienced New Jersey arson defense attorney and the sooner the better.

Charged with Arson in New Jersey?

My name is Anthony N. Palumbo, and if you've been charged with arson or a related crime in New Jersey, I can help. As a New Jersey Arson Criminal Defense Lawyer and partner at the law offices of Palumbo, Renaud & Deappolonio, I have more than 35 years of experience and I know how to get the best results for my clients. For a free and confidential consultation, contact me today through the email form on my website or call me at 1-866-664-8118.

Arson and Aggravated Arson

Under New Jersey law, a person is guilty of arson if he purposely started a fire or caused an explosion, whether on his own property or someone else's, and:

  • he recklessly placed another person in danger of death or bodily injury; or
  • he recklessly placed a building or structure belonging to someone else in danger of damage or destruction; or
  • he acted with the purpose of collecting insurance for the destruction or damage to such property; or
  • he acted with the purpose of destroying or damaging a structure in order to exempt the structure from the provisions of any state, county, or local zoning or land use regulation; or
  • he recklessly placed a forest in danger of damage or destruction.

Arson is a third degree crime and generally carries a penalty of 3 to 5 years in prison. However, arson charges can be upgraded to aggravated arson if a person committed arson and:

  • he purposely or knowingly placed another person in danger of death or bodily injury; or
  • he acted with the purpose of destroying a building or structure belonging to someone else; or
  • he acted with the purpose of collecting insurance for the destruction or damage to such property, under circumstances that recklessly placed another person in danger of death or bodily injury; or
  • he acted with the purpose of destroying or damaging a structure in order to exempt the structure from the provisions of any state, county, or local zoning or land use regulation, under circumstances that recklessly placed another person in danger of death or bodily injury; or
  • he acted with the purpose of destroying or damaging any forest.

Aggravated arson is a second degree crime and is punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison. Additionally, if the target of an aggravated arson offense was a health care facility or physician's office, the sentence must include a term of imprisonment and the court may not issue a suspended sentence or any other noncustodial disposition.

Understanding the legal language

The different levels of intent specified in these arson charges are very important because the prosecution must prove them in order to obtain a conviction. They can be defined as follows:

  • Purposeful: a person acts purposely if he has the conscious goal to commit an act or to create a result from that act.
  • Knowing: a person acts knowingly if he understands the nature of his actions or the considerable probability that they exist.
  • Reckless: a person acts recklessly if he is aware of the risk involved in his actions and that harm will probably occur, but he consciously disregards that risk.

The laws relating to arson and aggravated arson are worded very similarly and can be easily confused. The following summary table emphasizes the different levels of intent:

Arson

Aggravated Arson

recklessly placed another person in danger

purposely or knowingly placed another person in danger

recklessly placed another person's building in danger of damage or destruction

purposely acted to destroy another person's building

purposely acted to collect insurance money

purposely acted to collect insurance money, and recklessly placed another person in danger

purposely acted to destroy or damage a structure in order to exempt it from a land use regulation

purposely acted to destroy or damage a structure in order to exempt it from a land use regulation and recklessly placed another person in danger

recklessly placed a forest in danger of damage or destruction

purposely acted to destroy or damage a forest

First degree arson

Arson for hire is an even more serious crime than aggravated arson. If a person pays or accepts money or any other form of pecuniary benefit in exchange for committing arson, or even just offers to do so, he can be convicted for first degree arson and sentenced to anywhere from 10 to 20 years in prison.

Arson also becomes a first degree crime if the target of the offense was a church, synagogue, temple, or other place of public worship, and the minimum term of imprisonment in such cases is 15 years without parole.

Failure to Control or Report a Dangerous Fire

You can be charged with failing to control or report a fire in New Jersey, even if you're not guilty of arson. A person can be convicted for this offense if:

  • he knew that a fire was endangering life or a substantial amount of property belonging to someone else; and
  • he either failed to take reasonable measures to put out or control the fire, when doing so wouldn't have created a substantial risk to himself, or he failed to promptly report the fire or trigger a fire alarm; and
  • he was either under an official, contractual, or other legal duty to prevent or combat the fire, or the fire was started, albeit lawfully, by him or with his assent, or on property under his control.

Failing to control or report a dangerous fire is a fourth degree crime and can be punished by up to 18 months in jail.

Causing or Risking Widespread Injury or Damage

Arson offenses only cover fires and explosions, but it's also illegal to risk widespread injury or damage by other means, including causing a flood, an avalanche, or a building collapse, or by releasing a poisonous gas, radioactive material, or any other toxic substance. "Widespread injury or damage" is defined as serious bodily injury to 5 or more people, damage to 5 or more habitations, or damage to a building that would normally contain 25 or more people at the time of the offense.

The severity of the charge for causing or risking widespread injury or damage depends on the actor's level of intent and the extent of injury or damage. The law provides the following penalties:

  • a person who purposely or knowingly causes widespread injury or damage, or who purposely or knowingly causes a hazardous toxic discharge, is guilty of a second degree crime, which is punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison.
  • a person who recklessly causes widespread injury or damage, or who recklessly causes a hazardous toxic discharge, is guilty of a third degree crime, which is punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison.
  • a person who recklessly creates a risk of widespread injury or damage, even if no injury or damage actually occurs, is guilty of a fourth degree crime, which is punishable by up to 18 months in prison;
    • however, if the risk is caused by the reckless handling or storage of hazardous materials, it's a third degree crime, and it's a second degree crime if the handling or storage of hazardous materials violated any law, rule, or public safety regulation; and
  • a person who knowingly or recklessly fails to take reasonable measures to prevent or mitigate widespread injury or damage is guilty of a fourth degree crime if he was either under an official, contractual, or other legal duty to take such measures, or if he caused or assented to the act that created the widespread injury or damage.

Getting the Defense You Deserve

If you've been charged with arson or a related offense in New Jersey, an experienced arson defense lawyer can identify possible defenses in your case and help to get your charges reduced or even dismissed. If you need a criminal defense lawyer, contact me, Anthony N. Palumbo, through the email form on my website or call me at 1-866-664-8118 for a free and confidential consultation. As a former prosecutor and current criminal defense lawyer with over 35 years of experience, I'm familiar with both sides of the law and I've obtained hundreds of dismissals and downgraded charges for criminal defendants. While each case is unique, I can review your case and give you an honest assessment of the penalties you face and the best possible defenses that can be raised on your behalf.

The Law Offices of Palumbo, Renaud & Deappolonio is a criminal defense law firm with offices in Cranford, Elizabeth and Newark. We provide criminal defense services for many other types of criminal charges throughout New Jersey, including Essex County, Hudson County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Ocean County and Union County.