California arson (California Penal Code section 451) is defined as the willful or malicious setting fire to and burning or causing any occupied dwelling to include any structure, property or forest land to be burned. It also includes the aiding, counseling or soliciting burning. California arson law does not limit the crime to the burning of a house. Instead willful or malicious burning of any structure, forest land or property constitutes 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.
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.
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.
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