There are many reasons that a fire can start, ranging from a natural disaster to a controlled burn that gets out of hand. However, if a person starts a fire intentionally, he or she may be committing arson as defined in most states.
Types of Arson in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania divides arson laws into several different categories, but all require that a person intentionally start a fire or cause an explosion. The categories of arson include:
- arson endangering persons;
- arson endangering property;
- aggravated arson;
- reckless burning or exploding;
- arson of historic resource; and
- dangerous burning.
Pennsylvania also outlaws certain conduct related to arson. For example, failure to control or report a dangerous fire is a misdemeanor of the first degree, which often applies to those who have a legal duty to control or report fires. Another offense related to arson is possession of explosive materials or devices - a third degree felony. You can violate this offense by manufacturing, transporting, or possessing incendiary or explosive devices/materials with the intent to use them to commit any arson offenses.
Pennsylvania Arson Laws Overview
Below you'll find key provisions of arson laws in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18 Pa.C.S.A. Section 3301
Arson endangering persons (First Degree Felony): Intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion, or aiding another to do so, if it:
- recklessly places another person in danger of death or bodily injury; or
- is done with the purpose of destroying or damaging another person's inhabited building or occupied structure.
Aggravated arson (First Degree Felony): Intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion, or aiding someone to do so, while:
- attempting to cause, or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing, injury to another person; or
- committing an offense under this section which is graded as a felony when a person is present inside the property.
Arson of historic resource (Second Degree Felony): Intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion on any property, or aiding another to do so, with the purpose of destroying/damaging a historic resource of another.
Arson endangering property (Second Degree Felony): Intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion, or aiding another to do so:
- with the intent to damage a building or unoccupied structure of another;
- recklessly placing an inhabited building or occupied structure of another in danger of damage; or
- with the intent to damage property (including his/her own) to collect insurance.
Reckless burning or exploding (Third Degree Felony): Intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion, or aiding someone to do so, and recklessly placing another's uninhabited building, unoccupied structure, car, airplane, motorcycle, motorboat, or other motor-propelled vehicle, or other personal property is valued over $5,000 in danger of damage.
Conviction under Pennsylvania arson laws can result in imprisonment and fines. The prison term and fines will depend on the degree of the felony:
- First degree: up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $25, 000.
- Second degree: up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.
- Third degree: up to 7 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
A person convicted of aggravated arson can be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison if:
- A firefighter, police officer or other person engaged in fighting the fire is injured; or
- A civilian is seriously injured.
|Additional Charges and Penalties
A person who commits arson endangering persons is guilty of second degree murder if the fire or explosion causes the death of any person. If the purpose of the fire or explosion was to cause the death of another person, it is first degree murder.
A person who commits aggravated arson is guilty of second degree murder if the fire or explosion causes the death of any person.
If you're facing arson charges related to the destruction of a vehicle, it's a defense to show that:
- you have lawful title to the vehicle;
- the vehicle is free of any encumbrances;
- there is no insurance policy covering loss by fire; and
- you deliver a written sworn statement certifying the listed conditions to the State Police at least 48 hours before the planned destruction.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Pennsylvania Arson Laws: Related Resources
You can learn more about laws related to this topic by clicking the links below:
Get Legal Help with Your Pennsylvania Arson Case
Arson is generally a serious crime that can result in severe penalties especially if there is evidence that the underlying fire was intentionally set. If you're facing an arson charge in Pennsylvania, you may want to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Pennsylvania to learn more about the evidence in your case and your options going forward.