There’s not a lot of information available out there on Pennsylvania arson Laws. So if you’ve been arrested for or accused of this crime, you might be confused as to what the right next step is for you. The following article will outline what you can expect from the State and what you can do to protect yourself and your rights in this situation.
Pennsylvania Arson Penalties
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania defines arson as when:
“a person intentionally starts a fire or causes an explosion, or if he aids, counsels, pays or agrees to pay another to cause a fire or explosion, whether on his own property or on that of another, and if (i) he thereby recklessly places another person in danger of death or bodily injury, including but not limited to a firefighter, police officer or other person…actively engaged in fighting the fire; or (ii) he commits the act with the purpose of…destroying or damaging an inhabited building or occupied structure of another.”
The building in question does not have to be a home or a business, and the building does not have to burn to the ground for the crime of arson to have been committed. In fact, the State does not need to prove that you intended to burn the structure in question down to convict you, only that you started the fire intentionally.
A fire inspector also needs to appear in court and testify that he or she has reason to suspect arson. Oftentimes, these fire investigators are untrained scientists who do not understand or have never been exposed to the science of fire. For this reason, it can be especially helpful to have an arson attorney on your side who has a firm understanding of forensic science of fire debris investigation and access to top experts who can stand up to the state.
In most cases, the penalties for arson in Pennsylvania are very serious. If the fire injured or killed anyone, you can also face assault or murder charges.
If you’re facing trial for arson, you need an experience in your corner. McShane Firm CEO Justin McShane has extensive forensic science training, which includes several fire and arson seminars conducted through the NFPA. He is fast emerging as one of the top legal minds in the nation in this complex area of the law, to the point where he was recently quoted in Discover Magazine regarding a lack of scientific expertise in the prosecution of arson crimes. According to McShane:
“It’s still the Wild West out there. You’ve still got people talking about crazed glass or using the most damage as an indicator of the source. One can only hope that in ten to twenty years we get trained scientists doing these investigations.”
Justin has been on the invited faculty of the ATF/PSP Arson Investigation for Prosecutors where the taught prosecutors from around the United States the true science of fire and explosive debris investigation.