Arson


Harris County Arson Defense Attorneys

In Texas, arson is charged as a very serious offense because fires or explosions can result in devastating property damage, serious personal injury and even death. Because of these extreme and potential consequences, the Texas government dedicates enormous resources to investigate these crimes. The State Fire Marshal is the chief investigator in charge of the investigation of arson and suspected arson in the State of Texas. By statutory authority (Texas Government Code), the State Fire Marshal commissions law enforcement officers to act as fire and arson investigators under his supervision.

Arson cases are usually very circumstantial in nature because the start of a fire is seldom seen by independent witnesses. When fires are intentionally started, the motives can be to commit insurance fraud, hate crimes, retaliation, destroy evidence or to cover up other crimes, such as homicide. According to the Texas Department of Public safety, juveniles commit about 25 percent of arson crimes. Like a moth to the flame, youthful and curious firebugs are drawn to the primal and destructive nature of fire.

Arson charges are extremely serious. Individuals convicted of arson are usually sentenced to prison and forced to pay steep fines. To have the best chance of avoiding a conviction, it is important to hire an experienced Houston property crimes attorney.

Arson Defense Attorney in Houston

If you are under investigation for arson, it is vitally important to consult a lawyer before speaking to law enforcement or arson investigators.

If have been charged with arson in Harris County or any of the surrounding counties in Southeast Texas, contact James G. Sullivan and Associates for a free, confidential phone consultation at (281) 546-6428. James (Jim) Sullivan is an experienced trial lawyer who defends clients accused of property crimes.

Arson Law in Texas

According to Texas Penal Code Sec. 28.02, a person commits arson if he or she starts a fire (regardless of whether the fire continues after ignition) or causes an explosion with intent to destroy or damage:

  1. any vegetation, fence or structure on open-space land; or
  2. any building, habitation or vehicle:
    1. while knowing that it is within the limits of an incorporated city or town;
    2. while knowing that it is insured against damage or destruction;
    3. while knowing that it is subject to a mortgage or other security interest;
    4. while knowing that it is located on property belonging to another;
    5. while knowing that it has property located within in that belongs to another; or
    6. when the person is reckless about whether the burning or explosion will endanger the life of some individual or the safety of the property of another.

In Texas, arson is usually charged as a second degree felony. If the arson caused the bodily injury or death of any person, or if the property intended to be damaged or destroyed was a habitation or place of assembly or worship, the offender can be charged with a first degree felony.

A person can also be charged with arson if he or she recklessly starts a fire or causes an explosion while manufacturing or attempting to manufacture a controlled substance and the fire or explosion damages a building, vehicle, or habitation. This type of arson is usually charged as a state jail felony, however the offender can be charged with a third degree felony if the offense resulted in the death or bodily injury to another.

Controlled Burning Defense

It is a defense to the destruction of damage of any vegetation, fence or structure on open-space land if the fire or explosion was a part of the controlled burning of open-space land.

“Controlled burning” means the burning of unwanted vegetation with the consent of the owner of the property on which the vegetation is located and in such a manner that the fire is controlled and limited to a designated area.

“Open-space land” means real property that is undeveloped for the purpose of human habitation.

Texas Fire Marshal Investigations

The State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO), a program of the Texas Department of Insurance, is headquartered in Austin, however employees are strategically located across the state to respond quickly to requests from local communities. Because Texas experiences thousands of fires each year, the State Fire Marshal’s Fire Investigations Division (FID) uses an Investigation Protocol to effectively allocate the SFMO’s resources. Although any community that has suffered a fire-related incident may contact the FID for assistance, catastrophic fires that have resulted in death, significant property damage or pose a serious threat to public health and safety rank highest according to the protocol. Also included in the protocol are fires believed to be started by a serial arsonist, related to hate crime, or where the operation of a vital public institution is compromised,

Based on this protocol, the FID dispatches appropriate personnel to a fire scene to determine the fire’s origin and cause, and to assist local officials in the collection and analysis of evidence that may lead to prosecution of an alleged arsonist. The FID also has an Accelerant Detection Canine Unit which sends out canine handlers and their specially trained dogs to help determine the presence of ignitable liquids, such as gasoline, at fire scenes. The evidence collected is sent for analysis to the State Fire Marshal’s Forensic Arson Laboratory.

Punishment for Arson in Texas

Chapter 12 of the Texas Penal Code lists the felony punishment for arson.

A conviction for a second degree felony is punishable by a prison sentence ranging from two to 20 years and a fine up to $10,000.

A conviction for a first degree felony is punishable by a prison sentence ranging from five to 99 years or life in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

A conviction for a state jail felony is punishable by a state jail sentence ranging from 180 days to two years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Definitions of Terms

Texas Penal Code Sec. 28.01 lists the definitions of arson-related terms.

“Habitation” means a structure or vehicle that is adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons and includes each separately secured or occupied portion of the structure or vehicle and each structure appurtenant to or connected with the structure or vehicle.

“Building” means any structure or enclosure intended for use or occupation as a habitation or for some purpose of trade, manufacture, ornament, or use.

“Vehicle” includes any device in, on, or by which any person or property is or may be propelled, moved or drawn in the normal course of commerce or transportation.

James G. Sullivan and Associates | Harris County Arson Defense Attorneys

Houston arson defense lawyer James Sullivan will discuss with you the seriousness of your charge and the various effective defense strategies that are best suited for your particular case. Before you make your plea in court, it is important that you consult a property crimes lawyer in Houston, Texas.  Houston criminal attorney James Sullivan gets proven results.

James Sullivan graduated the Trial Lawyers College founded by Legendary lawyer Gerry. Sullivan has a proven record of defending people from all walks of life, faiths and countries in courts throughout Texas.

Contact James Sullivan & Associates for a free phone consultation at (281) 546-6428 about your arson charges in Harris County (Houston), Montgomery County (Conroe), Fort Bend County (Richmond), Brazoria County (Angleton), Galveston County (Galveston), Waller County (Hempstead) and throughout Texas.

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