The state of arson charges in Pennsylvania is scary. The science just isn’t there.
If you do nothing else, please read the The Story of James Hugney Sr.
Learn More About James and how we used science to beat the arson charge
- Pennsylvania Innocence Project profile of James Hugney
- Penn Live: “Attorney for man freed after nearly 36 years in prison thankful ‘criminal justice system worked'”
- The Washington Post: “This week in innocence: Joseph Sledge and James Hugney Sr.”
- Fox 43: “Man freed after 35 years in prison for crime he did not commit”
What you need to know about Arson charges in PA
There’s not a lot of information available out there on Pennsylvania Arson Laws. Why? Most attorneys don’t know squat about it. We do. We teach lawyers, judges, scientists and prosecutors about fire science. Nationally, folks all over the US know us for our heavy background in forensic science. That’s why folks call us The Science Attorneys. The government is supposed to use science as be the cornerstone of arson charges. Oftentimes, science is totally missing from these cases.
There’s an old joke that goes: What do you call someone who escapes a fire but their family dies in it? Answer: the Defendant. It’s crude. But if you look all over the nation, this is true. The police are quick to accuse. But in reality arson charges are very hard for the government to prove.
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.”
Some myths busted
- The building does not have to be a home or a business to qualify as arson.
- The building does not have to burn to the ground to qualify as arson.
- 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 intentionally started the fire.
- You do not have to give a statement to the insurance company if your property is damaged by fire.
Your Attorney Needs to Know the State of Arson Science
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 non-scientists who do not understand or have never been exposed to the science of fire. For this reason, you must have an arson science trained attorney on your side. This person may be the only one in the courtroom who has a firm understanding of forensic science of fire debris investigation. We have ready access to top experts who can stand up to the state hogwash.
Arson is a felony of the first degree with high sentencing guidelines. The maximum sentence is up to 20 years. If the fire injured or killed anyone, you can also face aggravated assault or murder charges.
If you’re facing trial for arson, you need experience in your corner. The McShane Firm CEO Justin McShane has extensive forensic science training, He has been to several fire and arson seminars conducted through the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). This is the same type of training that advanced fire investigators get.
World renowned expert
McShane has been featured in articles about the sad state of fire science in America. He is the go to defense expert for news journalists all over the world. 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.”
The ATF/PSP/PA DCNR held a conference called “Arson Investigation for Prosecutors.” Attorney McShane taught there. Prosecutors from around the United States learned from him about the true science of fire and explosive debris investigation.
Watch as Justin McShane and the Pennsylvania State Police Arson Investigation Unit teach prosecutors about Arson science
Additional recommended reading:
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