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People often use the term “arson” to refer to any instance of someone intentionally burning something. However, the legal definition of arson is a bit more complicated.

How Florida Defines Arson

Under Florida Statute 806.01, an act of first-degree arson occurs when:

  • Any person willfully and unlawfully, or while in the commission of any felony, by fire or explosion, damages:
    • Any dwelling, whether occupied or not.
    • Any structure, or contents thereof, where people are normally present, such as jails, prisons, or detention centers; hospitals, nursing homes, or other health care facilities; department stores, office buildings, business establishments; churches, or educational institutions during normal hours of occupancy; or similar structures; or
    • Any other structure that the arsonist knew was occupied by a human being.

Under the same statute, an act of second-degree arson occurs when any person “willfully and unlawfully, by fire or explosion, damages any structure, whether the property of himself or herself or another.

The statute specifies that the term “structure” applies to any building of any kind, any enclosed area with a roof over it, any real property and appurtenances thereto, any tent or other portable building, and any vehicle, vessel, watercraft, or aircraft.

Burning something that is not a structure – such as, for example, a piece of paper – would not be considered arson under Florida law. (However, it could very well be a violation of a different statute.) Unintentionally burning something would not be considered arson, either, unless it happened while the perpetrator was committing a felony.

Preventing or Obstructing Extinguishment of Fire

There is another state law, Florida Statute 806.10, which makes it illegal to prevent or obstruct a fire from being extinguished. Under the statute, it is a third-degree felony if any person willfully and maliciously injures or destroys any vehicles, tools, equipment, or other instruments that are used in detecting, reporting, suppressing, or extinguishing fires.

It is also a violation of the statute to prevent a firefighter from doing his or her job.

Finding an Attorney

If you have been charged with arson, or with preventing or obstructing extinguishment of fire, you may be facing a significant prison sentence if you are convicted. All of the offenses described above are felonies – and first-degree arson is a first-degree felony. It is important that you seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney, such as Fort Lauderdale attorney Mark S. Lowry. You can schedule a consultation with him today by calling or emailing his office.