Arson is a crime where someone uses fire or explosives to intentionally and maliciously damage or destroy a building or property. Along with New Jersey and all other states, the federal government has laws against arson, and the crime falls under federal jurisdiction in the following circumstances:
- The U.S. government owns, occupies, or leases the property.
- The property is used for interstate or foreign commerce.
The federal government's penalties for arson can include prison or probation, along with considerable fines and restitution. Additionally, just being investigated and charged with federal arson can adversely affect your reputation, your career, and other areas of your life.
If you've been arrested for federal arson, the facts and circumstances involving your case will determine the possible penalties you can face. You need an experienced federal criminal defense attorney to advise you of your options and help you build the strongest defense possible.
Arson Against Federal Property
The federal government can charge you with arson if you intentionally and maliciously tried to destroy federal property using fire or explosives. You can even face charges even if you attempted or conspired to commit the offense. Some examples of federal property include:
- Federal buildings, such as government administrative offices, post offices, and federal prisons
- Military and naval armories
- Munitions of war
- Structures or vessels
- Building materials or supplies
- Any structural aids or appliances for navigation or shipping, which includes bridges and roads
Federal property also includes national parks and monuments and U.S. territories overseas.
Arson Against Interstate and Foreign Commerce Property
Along with burning federal property, arson falls under federal jurisdiction if the property was “any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce.” Examples include:
- National chain stores
- Hotels and restaurants
- Delivery vehicles
The law is broad in scope and protects “all business property.” In fact, prosecutors are even allowed to make a case for other property that may “not fit that description.”
Arson also falls under federal jurisdiction if the government property was used as a dwelling. If the structure was a private residence not owned by the government, the government can still prosecute the crime if it can establish a clear interstate connection with the property.
You can also face charges for federal arson if you used fire or explosives when committing another felony. For example, you may have used a bomb to rob a bank. You can also face charges if you possessed explosives when you committed the crime.
Penalties for Federal Arson
If convicted of federal arson, you could spend at least five years in prison or as many as 20 years. You can also receive enhanced penalties if any of the following occurred during the commission of the crime:
- You injured someone, including a responding police officer or emergency personnel. The minimum prison sentence is seven years, and the maximum is 40.
- You killed someone, including a responding officer, firefighter, or paramedic. The minimum prison sentence is 20 years, and you could get life in prison or even the death penalty.
Furthermore, you can still receive enhanced penalties for injuring or killing someone even if you didn't mean to cause anyone harm or didn't know anyone was inside the building at the time. You can also receive a life sentence if the building was used as a dwelling.
Federal arson law also prohibits manufacturing, dealing, or distributing explosives without a license, along with being in possession of unlicensed volatile chemicals. Even if you have a license, prosecutors can still charge you with arson if you supplied the explosives used in the crime. Maximum prison sentences can be 10 to 20 years or more.
You can also receive additional penalties if you used fire or explosives to commit another felony. You can get an extra 10 or 20 years on top of the prison sentence for the other felony.
Penalties for all federal arson may involve fines as high as $250,000. The court may also order you to pay restitution for the damage you caused.
Defenses for Federal Arson
Being charged with federal arson is serious, and prosecutors may think they have a lot of evidence against you. However, a charge is not a conviction, and you have every right to defend yourself in court. Considering the harsh consequences you could receive, you need to develop an effective defense strategy. If any of the following describe your situation be sure to notify your attorney:
- You did not act willfully or maliciously. – The law states you must have acted willfully and maliciously. If you can show you did not mean to start the fire, you may be able to claim it was an accident. Even if you started the fire, you might have had no malicious intent to destroy the property. A small fire can grow out of control quickly, and you may not have been able to keep the fire under control.
- Someone falsely accused you. – Someone may have burned down their own property to commit insurance fraud and blamed you for setting the fire. Also, someone could have started the fire and accused you out of revenge or simply because they didn't want to accept responsibility and were looking for a scapegoat.
- The damaged or destroyed property was not federal property. – If the property was not government property or used in interstate or foreign commerce, you should not face federal charges for arson.
- Something else caused the fire. – If you can prove faulty wiring, lightning, or a malfunctioning appliance started the fire, you should have any charges for arson dismissed.
Other options may be available to you as well. In any defense, you will need to create reasonable doubt in the minds of your jury as to your involvement in the crime. For this, you will need a thorough review of your case from an attorney with experience defending cases in federal court.
Contact an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience defending clients against federal charges of arson and other crimes. He will review your case and advise you of your options. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.