Arson is the intentional destruction of property through the use of fire or explosives. The property in question doesn’t have to belong to someone else; you can commit arson against your own property.
Depending on the circumstances, the state can charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony.
If Minnesota charges you with arson, you need to take it seriously from the outset. And one of the best things you can do to protect yourself is to get an experienced lawyer by your side.
Types of Arson Charges
Minnesota applies five different classifications to the crime of arson. First-degree arson is the most serious, and fifth-degree arson is the least serious. Let’s look at a brief description of each type of arson under Minnesota law.
Arson in the Fifth Degree
Fifth-degree arson is the intentional destruction by fire or explosive of any real or personal property. The maximum penalty is 90 days in jail and a file of $1,000. Fifth-degree arson is a misdemeanor.
Arson in the Fourth Degree
Fourth-degree arson is the intentional destruction by fire or explosive of any personal property in a public building or a multi-unit residential facility.
The maximum penalty is one year in jail and a fine of $3,000. Fourth-degree arson is a gross misdemeanor.
Arson in the Third Degree
Third-degree arson is the intentional use of fire or explosives for the destruction of property:
- If the defendant intended to destroy property worth between $300 and $1,000, even if the property actually damaged did not carry this much value;
- If the defendant destroyed property worth $300 or more, regardless of whether the defendant intended to destroy such property, as long as the magnitude of the destruction was reasonably foreseeable; or
- The property had an aggregate value of at least $300.
The maximum penalty for third-degree arson is five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Arson in the Second Degree
Second-degree arson is the use of fire or explosives to intentionally destroy property not covered by third-degree arson or property that’s worth more than $1,000. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison and a fine of $20,000.
Arson in the First Degree
First-degree arson is the use of fire or explosives to intentionally destroy property under the following circumstances:
- The property in question was a dwelling, or a building connected to a dwelling, even if the occupant was not at home. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison and a fine of $35,000.
- The property in question was not a dwelling but was occupied at the time by someone other than an accomplice, and the defendant knew of the occupancy or should have known of the reasonable likelihood of such occupancy. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison and a fine of $20,000.
- The property was not a dwelling, and the defendant used a flammable material (such as gasoline) to start or accelerate the fire. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison and a fine of $20,000.
The state can add additional charges, depending on the circumstances. If you burn down your own house to collect insurance proceeds, for example, the state can charge you with insurance fraud in addition to arson.
If you set fire to a dwelling and someone dies in the fire, the State can charge you with murder or manslaughter.
This is true of other degrees of arson as well, but it is particularly likely to happen as a consequence of first-degree arson.
Attempted arson is a crime that constitutes a criminal attempt under Minnesota law. Attempted arson requires an intent to commit arson, plus a “substantial step” that involves something more than mere preparation.
The maximum penalty is half the incarceration and half the fine of whatever degree of arson you attempted to commit.
A major defense against attempted arson is that you changed your mind in good faith and abandoned your intention to commit the crime.
Aiding and Abetting Arson
In Minnesota, aiding and abetting arson is a crime in itself. You can commit this crime in two ways.
- You can aid and abet someone committing arson by helping or encouraging them to commit the crime, such as hiring someone to burn down a building. Under these circumstances, you could receive the same sentence as the person who actually lit the match.
- You can aid and abet by destroying evidence of the crime, lying to investigators to hide the crime, or otherwise obstructing justice by hindering the discovery of arson. The maximum penalty for this is three years in prison and a fine of $5,000.
You can defend yourself against helping someone commit a crime. To do so, you must prove that you abandoned your criminal purpose before the crime occurred and took steps to prevent the crime from occurring—such as calling the police.
If you take these steps, you will not be guilty even if your efforts to prevent the arson fail.
Arson Charges for Minors/Juvenile Offenders
Like other states, Minnesota treats juvenile criminal offenders with greater leniency than it treats adults. That doesn’t mean the consequences are never serious, however.
If the defendant faces trial in juvenile court, the sentence might include incarceration in a juvenile facility. If the defendant is tried as an adult, the sentence might include incarceration in an adult prison.
Felony Arson Charges
Arson in the first, second, and third degrees are all prosecuted as felonies. The State can prosecute a criminal attempt to commit arson as a felony if the sentence includes over one year of incarceration.
The same principle applies to aiding and abetting arson. A juvenile can face felony charges too, although the penalties may not be as harsh if the minor isn’t prosecuted in adult court.
In addition to incarceration and a fine, you are also likely to face liability for restitution unless you destroy your own property.
If the arson caused a lot of damage, you might face millions of dollars in restitution liability, even if you had no intention of causing that much damage.
Take Immediate Action
If you are facing arson charges, this is no time for indecision. Criminal prosecutions move quickly, and the consequences of a conviction could be catastrophic and negatively impact your life for many years to come.
We have decades of experience under our belts, and we serve clients throughout the state of Minnesota.
Attorney John Arechigo has a passion for criminal defense in St. Paul, MN. John received his J.D., from Hamline University School of Law and also carries a Bachelor of Arts from, The University of Minnesota. John was named Attorney of the Year for 2019 by Minnesota Lawyer. Additionally, John was also named as a 2019 Rising Star and was selected to Minnesota Super Lawyers in 2021. He devotes nearly 100% of his practice to defending individuals charged with a crime.