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Newton NJ Arson Defense Lawyers

Skilled Criminal Attorneys Defending Arson Cases in Sussex and Warren County, NJ

Arson Charge Defense in Belvidere, NJArson is purposefully or recklessly starting a fire or causing an explosion. The fire can be in a building or structure with the intent to destroy it or to collect insurance money for the damage. Arson includes fires on land or vehicles. If an explosion places people in danger or the fire starts a forest fire, they are also considered arson. In instances when the fire causes death, an additional charge of murder, manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter can be added. A burglary charge may be added if the defendant broke into the property to set the fire. Setting a fire on private property can bring a charge of criminal trespass. Additionally, setting fire to collect insurance money can be charged as committing insurance fraud.

Arson crimes in Sussex and Warren County can take many different forms. Whether you are accused of setting fire to your own property to collect insurance, or with the purpose of placing another person in danger of death or bodily injury, or you supposedly recklessly placed a forest in danger of damage or destruction, you will be charged with the indictable crime of arson and be required to answer the charges in the Superior Court, Criminal Division in the county where the alleged arson occurred. The experienced Sussex and Warren County criminal defense attorneys at our law firm are ready to defend your liberty and help you regardless of the nature of the arson offense you have been accused of. Do not wait any longer. Contact us at 973-755-1695 to receive a free consultation and discuss your case.

Aggravated Arson Explained in New Jersey Criminal Statutes

New Jersey’s criminal statutes set forth many different types of arson-related crimes. N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1 sets forth that a person is guilty of aggravated arson, a crime of the second degree, if he starts a fire or causes an explosion, whether on his own property or another’s: (1) thereby purposely or knowingly placing another person in danger of death or bodily injury; or (2) with the purpose of destroying a building or structure of another; or (3) with the purpose of collecting insurance for the destruction or damage to such property under circumstances which recklessly place any other person in danger of death or bodily injury; or (4) with the purpose of destroying or damaging a structure in order to exempt the structure, completely or partially, from the provisions of any State, county or local zoning, planning or building law, regulation, ordinance or enactment under circumstances which recklessly place any other person in danger of death or bodily injury; or (5) with the purpose of destroying or damaging any forest.

Arson as a Crime of the Third Degree in NJ

The arson laws in New Jersey also state that a person is guilty of arson, a crime of the third degree, if he purposely starts a fire or causes an explosion, whether on his own property or another’s: (1) thereby recklessly placing another person in danger of death or bodily injury; or (2) thereby recklessly placing a building or structure of another in danger of damage or destruction; or (3) with the purpose of collecting insurance for the destruction or damage to such property; or (4) with the purpose of destroying or damaging a structure in order to exempt the structure, completely or partially, from the provisions of any State, county or local zoning, planning or building law, regulation, ordinance or enactment; or (5) thereby recklessly placing a forest in danger of damage or destruction.

Failure to Report a Fire Charges in New Jersey Law

Additionally, N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1(c) sets forth that a person who knows that a fire is endangering life or a substantial amount of property of another and either fails to take reasonable measures to put out or control the fire, when he can do so without substantial risk to himself, or to give prompt fire alarm, commits a crime of the fourth degree if: (1) he knows that he is under an official, contractual, or other legal duty to prevent or combat the fire; or (2) the fire was started, albeit lawfully, by him or with his assent, or on property in his custody or control.

Intent, Damage, and Negligence: the Key Elements of Arson in New Jersey

The difference between simple and aggravated arson boils down to intent. Simple arson is when the defendant starts the fire or explosion on purpose but without the intent to endanger others. They behave recklessly, meaning there is a conscious disregard for the possible risks and outcomes of committing arson. Aggravated arson, on the other hand, is committed when there is intent to start a fire that will purposefully cause harm to someone else or destroy property.

Whether the charge is aggravated or simple arson, the prosecution must prove that the accused started the fire purposefully. They must have an intent to set the fire to property, whether theirs or someone else’s. The fire must cause damage to the property, whether minor or significant. For a charge of aggravated arson, there must be an intent to cause harm to those in the structure or an attempt to destroy property for another motivation, such as collecting insurance money. Simple arson requires that the act of arson is reckless and the purpose is not to harm anyone.

To prove conspiracy to commit arson (also known as “fire for hire”), the State must show that the accused directly or indirectly paid or received payment to start a fire or cause an explosion for the motives of causing harm to someone, causing property damage, or committing insurance fraud.

Proving that someone was aware there was a fire, and the accused did not report the fire or did not sound an alarm is another element of arson. If someone starts a controlled fire that spreads out of control, they can be charged. Also, if the person is under contract to put out the fire and does not (as in the case of a firefighter), the State must prove willful negligence.

Importance of the Degrees of Offense in Arson Cases

Setting fire to a church, another religious center, hospital, medical center, or clinic is a first degree crime. It carries a 15-year minimum sentence, whether the action was reckless or the accused intended to cause harm. Intentionally starting a fire for the purposes of insurance fraud is another factor that can influence a sentence. The difference between third-degree and second-degree (aggravated arson) is intent to cause bodily injury.

In the third degree, arson has the condition of recklessness, ignoring the danger the fire could cause and acting in a way that can cause damage to the structure or building involved in the fire. Injuries or death suffered by the victims of the fire are unintentional and the result of recklessness. Additional charges of manslaughter may apply here. Aggravated arson requires an intent to cause death or bodily injury using arson. This can signify additional charges, such as homicide and murder, in cases where the victim does not survive.

Penalties Based on the Degree of an Arson Charge in NJ

Regardless of the nature of arson offense you are facing, the penalties will be the same and are based on the degree of the arson.

  • For a second degree offense of arson: five to ten years in prison and a $150,000 fine;
  • For a third degree arson offense: three to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine; and
  • For a fourth degree arson crime: 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The Findings from Forensic Evidence in NJ Arson Cases

Forensic investigators will spend many hours at the site of the fire. They will look for the fire’s point of origin by identifying the area of greatest flame damage, smoke deposits on walls, and deepest char (burns) on material within the structure. Investigators will sift through the site and collect all materials that could provide evidence of arson. This could include timing devices, explosive devices, wires, glass, shrapnel, or any other material that could lead to determining the cause of the fire and who started it.

Once they have identified the fire’s point of origin, by working in tandem with laboratory analysts who will test material samples from the site, they will determine the cause of the fire. Field tests can also be done to evaluate evidence from the fire further. Additional evidence of arson can be extracted from signs of forceful entry, open windows, removal of valuable property, and alarms or sprinkler systems that have been tampered with. Multiple points of origin, flammable material gathered in an area of the arson site, and the use of accelerants are all indicators of arson as well.

All evidence will be presented in court, typically by a forensic specialist, who will explain in great detail what was found and what is surmised because of the findings.

The Link Between Arson and Insurance Fraud

Sussex County NJ Arson Defense Lawyers Many cases of arson in New Jersey are related to insurance fraud. Property owners commit arson or hire someone to do it for them to collect insurance money for the damage. When an arson investigation begins, the insurance company usually sends an investigator to inspect the damage and determine if the fire was purposely started. Indicators of arson outside of the physical evidence are commercial properties that have been abandoned, owners who are several months behind on their mortgage, or those who have recently changed the financial evaluation of the property and the amount of coverage requested.

Building a Strong Defense Against Arson Charges in NJ

There are several legal defenses to a charge of arson. An alibi for the time the fire occurred and witnesses who can confirm it is solid evidence in favor of the defense. A forensic investigator who determined the fire to be accidental or the resources used to start the fire were so advanced that a regular person would have no knowledge of how to use them. Other defenses include witnesses whose testimony isn’t credible, fabricated testimony, mistaken identity, witness tampering, and faulty evidentiary analysis.

Contact a Warren County NJ Arson Defense Lawyer Today

Being accused of arson is a serious situation that can mean hefty fines and a lengthy prison sentence, and all lawyers are not the same. You want someone who is detail-oriented, knows the law, and has the resources needed for your unique situation. We have the knowledge and experience you want on your side. The seasoned defense attorneys at our firm will view your circumstances from every angle to construct a solid defense. We may be able to negotiate to get your charges reduced or dismissed.

If you are facing arson or arson-related charges in Sparta, Frankford, Phillipsburg, Andover, Pohatcong, Lopatcong, Andover, Hackettstown, and throughout Sussex County and Warren County, New Jersey, call 973-755-1695 for a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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Our attorneys serve clients in Allamuchy, Andover, Belvidere, Frankford Township, Greenwich, Franklin Borough, Hackettstown, Hopatcong, Lopatcong Township, Newton, Mansfield Township, Sparta, North Warren, Vernon, Phillipsburg, Wantage, Pohatcong Township, Stillwater, Washington Borough, and throughout Sussex County and Warren County, New Jersey.


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