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Those convicted of arson face serious penalties, including up to 40 years in prison. Since the stakes are so high for defendants, it is critical for those who have been charged with federal arson to seek the advice and guidance of an experienced federal crimes attorney who can help them formulate a solid defense.

Elements of Arson

A person has committed federal arson if:

  • He or she intentionally set fire to or intended to set fire to a building; and
  • Acted wrongfully and without justification.

For a case to be tried in federal court, the building that was targeted must be:

  • Located on property owned or leased to the U.S., including departments, agencies, and any organization that receives federal financial assistance; or
  • Used in interstate commerce or in any activity affecting interstate commerce.

If charged with an attempted arson, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant did something that constituted a substantial step toward committing the crime. Establishing that a defendant merely prepared to start a fire is not enough to justify a conviction. To constitute a substantial step, the defendant’s action must show that unless interrupted by an independent circumstance, the crime will take place.

Using Fire to Commit a Felony

A person can also be charged with the federal crime of using a fire or an explosive to commit a felony. If convicted of this offense, a defendant will receive a 10-year prison sentence in addition to the sentence handed down for the underlying felony. Anyone convicted of this offense a second or subsequent time will be sentenced to at least 20 years in prison. Courts are also specifically prohibited from placing those who are convicted of this crime on probation or from suspending their sentence. Even carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony can be prosecuted under this federal law.

Potential Penalties

Defendants who are convicted of this offense face between 5 and 20 years in prison. If a fire directly or proximately caused someone else to suffer an injury or even created a risk of injury, the defendant will automatically be sentenced to between 7 and 40 years in prison. Finally, if someone loses his or her life as a result of the fire, the defendant faces between 20 years to life in prison.

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Federal crimes tend to be aggressively investigated and prosecuted, and almost always have harsher penalties than similar state laws. Having the advice of an experienced Miami arson attorney who is familiar with federal law can make all the difference in the outcome of a case.

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