Arson in Virginia is an extremely serious crime and due to the grievous potential for devastation, injury, or even death, facing the consequences can be terrifying. The offense is described as willfully and maliciously using fire or an explosion to cause damage to another’s property and depending on whether the property was occupied, a conviction can result in some incredibly dismal effects, ranging from a haunting mark on your criminal record to spending the rest of your life in prison.
If you have been charged with arson in Virginia, there is no doubt that you will need help from an experienced Roanoke arson lawyer as soon as possible. At Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico, we know that many of these cases are based on circumstantial evidence and unfounded suspicions about retribution or collecting insurance money. We are committed to protecting you, your reputation, and your freedom. By employing every available resource, our highly skilled property crimes attorneys will conduct an exhaustive investigation in your case and will build an effective strategy to defend against these claims and secure the best possible outcome.
Call us today at (540) 343-9349 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case and how we can help.
Criminal Penalties & Civil Penalties
According to Virginia Code §18.2-77, arson is always considered a felony and the penalties of a conviction principally depend on whether the dwelling or structure in question was occupied at the time of the fire.
- If it was occupied, the arson is punishable by five years to life in prison, in addition to a fine of up to $100,000.
- On the other hand, if the structure was unoccupied, the charge is downgraded to a Class 4 felony and punished with a prison sentence between 2 and 10 years, a fine of up to $100,000, or both.
- Additionally, if someone dies because they were in the structure that was set on fire, the individual charged with the arson may also be charged with murder.
It is also important to note that anyone who aids or assists in an arson-related offense by burning or destroying the property can also be punished as if they performed the arson themselves.
Furthermore, since the requirements in a civil matter are much lower than a criminal case, anyone convicted of arson in Virginia also runs the risk of being sued by anyone that suffered financial losses because of the arson. For example, if a judgment is levied against you for the damages incurred by the property owner of a business that was burnt down, you may find yourself stripped of your financial assets and possibly facing bankruptcy.
Possible Arson Defenses
To be convicted of arson, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intentionally and maliciously set the fire. If the state fails to meet these criteria, the court should hand down a not-guilty verdict. That’s why it is important to find an attorney who can use their skill, experience, and extensive resources to cast doubt and attack the case against you.
A Roanoke arson lawyer can help build a defense strategy by showing that:
You are the victim of mistaken identity – These cases are rarely built on direct evidence that a specific individual was responsible for the fire. Your attorney can sometimes present evidence or argue that another person set the fire or you lacked the necessary means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crime.
There was no malicious intent – This is perhaps the hardest factor to prove in court since it is very difficult for a prosecutor to show a person’s state of mind at the time of the alleged crime. Your attorney may be able to demonstrate this lack of evidence and if you set a fire in a field to clear some brush and a structure was damaged as a result, that should not be considered arson since the damage was not your desired outcome.
The fire was unintentional – More and more, arson cases rely heavily on scientific experts and other forensic testimony regarding the presence or absence of accelerants and the burn patterns showing where the fire started. These complex scientific techniques are constantly evolving; therefore, if you are charged with arson after an unfortunate incident involving a malfunctioning furnace, it is important to find an attorney who is knowledgeable in the most up-to-date arson investigation techniques and whose network of relationships includes scientific experts who can testify and present evidence on your behalf that the fire was purely accidental.
Consult a Roanoke Arson Lawyer Immediately
From ruined finances to the loss of your freedom, confronting an arson charge in Virginia can be overwhelming. The dedicated Roanoke criminal defense attorneys of Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico know all too well that this type of accusation can throw your whole life in turmoil and we believe that the key to a successful defense is listening to your side of the story, collecting all the evidence, and passionately advocating for you.