Arson & Reckless Burning: CA Penal Code 451, 452

In California arson is defined under California Penal Code 451 & 452

California Penal Code 451: A person is found guilty of arson when they willfully and maliciously sets fire to, or aids and councils the burning of any structure, forest land, or property.

California Penal Code 452: A person is found guilty arson when they recklessly set fire to any structure, forest land, or property.

As you can see the difference is the intent the person had when they committed arson. California law does not apply to setting your own property on fire, unless it is done with intent of committing fraud, of if another person or property that does not belong to you are caused injury.

Arson is a crime that is handled by specially trained investigators who collect and analyze chemical and forensic evidence to locate the point where the fire started, and in some cases the cause of the fire.

Attorney David Chesley maintains a reputation being an aggressive defender who is willing to fight for you. With the help of the other attorneys at the Law Offices of David S. Chesley, David has successfully proved the innocence of many clients, including clients facing arson charges.

Factors Leading to Aggravated Arson

Certain aggravating factors will elevate the crime of arson to aggravated arson. A conviction for arson within the previous 10 years automatically elevates any subsequent charge to aggravated arson. If the arson causes property damage or other losses in excess of $6.5 million dollars or causes damage to five or more inhabited structures, the charge will be aggravated arson.

Penalties for Arson

If great bodily injury occurs as a result, you can be sentenced to five, seven or nine years in state prison. If the structure burned was inhabited, the felony is punishable by three, five or eight years. The burning of forest land is punishable by two, four or six years in prison. Burning of property not a structure is punishable by 16 months, two or three years in prison. The penalty for aggravated arson is 10 years to life in prison.

Arson Enhancements

The penalty for arson in California is enhanced by one to three years for each of certain conditions that are present. If a firefighter, peace officer or emergency personnel suffers great bodily injury as a result of the arson, the sentence will be enhanced. Similarly, if more than one person at all is seriously injured, the sentence will be enhanced by one to three years.


If You have any more questions or concerns regarding arson or any other crime, the Law Offices of David Chesley invites you to contact us at any time. Our lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and a legal professional is waiting to speak with you.

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