Guide to Florida’s Arson Laws

September 4, 2023 Criminal Defense

If a person starts a fire that results in property damage or personal injury, they may face criminal charges for arson.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE)’s Uniform Crime Report, there were 1,431 reported cases of arson and an additional 93 cases involving attempted arson in Florida in 2021. In Florida, it does not matter whether a defendant intended to cause damage or injury. By purposely starting a fire in a structure or dwelling, arson is a serious criminal offense that results in expensive fines and imprisonment if convicted. When dealing with a criminal charge for arson, it is ideal to consult an experienced arson defense attorney who can provide you with the utmost support and advice during this trying time.

This blog post will help define arson and the different arson-related charges and penalties. 

How is Arson Defined in Florida?

Arson is defined as the malicious burning of the dwelling of another. Under Florida Statutes Section 806.01,  arson occurs when a person willfully and unlawfully damages, or attempts to damage the following by fire:

  • Any dwelling, whether occupied or not; or
  • Any structure where there are people usually present.

In other words, if a person is caught lighting property on fire with the purpose of destroying or damaging it, they may be charged with an arson offense. For the State to secure a conviction, they must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant caused a fire or explosion on purpose; and
  • The fire caused by the defendant resulted in damage to the dwelling or structure.

In an arson case, it is important to distinguish between a dwelling and structure. Under Florida Statutes Section 810.011, a dwelling is defined as a building of any kind with a roof over its head and is designed to occupy people inside. Examples include a house, apartment, hotel, or other place where people may be residing.

A structure is defined as a building of any kind, either temporary or permanent, with a roof over its head. Examples of a structure include office buildings, restaurants, gas stations, bars, car garages, etc.

The penalties for an arson offense vary depending on the type of place which was allegedly set on fire.

Penalties for Arson

Despite it being considered a property crime, arson is a felony offense that can be charged as either a second- or first-degree felony.

Arson is a second-degree felony when a defendant allegedly sets fire to a structure without any other people present. For example, the second-degree felony would attach if someone started a fire at an office building in the middle of the night when people are not present. It is also worth noting that a defendant can face a second-degree felony charge for causing a fire during the commission of a separate felony offense if the fire results in property damage.

The penalties for a second-degree felony include:

  • Up to a $10,000 fine
  • Up to 15 years in prison

Arson is a first-degree felony when the defendant allegedly sets fire to any dwelling or structure where they had reason to believe that people would be present. For example, a first-degree felony may occur if someone starts a fire at a hotel or at an office building during regular office hours.

The penalties for a first-degree felony include:

  • Up to a $10,000 fine
  • Up to 30 years in prison

There are additional arson-related charges a defendant may face if the fire caused any bodily injury, prevented the extinguishment of fire, or involved a firebomb. 

Arson Resulting in Injury to Others

There are additional penalties for an arson offense that results in injury to other individuals.

Florida Statutes Section 806.031 explains that it is a first-degree misdemeanor for any person who commits arson that results in bodily harm to a firefighter or any other person, regardless of intent or lack of intent to cause harm.

A second-degree felony may attach if the arson offense results in great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to a firefighter or any other person.

Preventing or Obstructing Extinguishment of Fire

It is worth noting that removing, destroying, or causing any injury or interference with a fire hydrant or other preventative fire measures can result in criminal prosecution.

Florida Statutes Section 806.10 explains it is a third-degree felony for any person who willfully and maliciously injures, destroys, or removes the use of any vehicle, tool, equipment, water supplies, hydrants, towers, buildings, communication facilities, or other instruments used in the detection, reporting, suppression, or extinguishment of a fire.

Law Against Firebombs

The Florida Legislature defines a “firebomb” as a container containing flammable or combustible liquid, or any incendiary chemical mixture or compound having a wick or similar device capable of being ignited or other means capable of causing ignition. An exception is a device that was commercially manufactured for the purpose of illumination, heating, or cooking.

Under Florida Statutes Section 806.111, it is unlawful for any person to possess, manufacture, transport, or dispose of a firebomb with the intent to use the firebomb to cause damage to any structure or property. Any person who is found in possession of a firebomb can face a third-degree felony.

False Alarm of Fires

Just as it is unlawful to start a fire, it is also illegal to make false claims of a fire. Under Florida Statutes Section 806.101, it is considered a first-degree misdemeanor for any person to outcry the ringing of bells or make a false alarm regarding a fire. A second or subsequent conviction under this law is considered a third-degree felony.

Does Arson Count as Felony Murder?

The felony murder rule provides that any person who is accused of a violent felony can be charged with murder if the commission of such felony results in the death of another person. Florida Statutes Section 782.04 explains that felony murder occurs when another person dies while the defendant is engaged in the commission or attempted commission of any of the following felonies:

That means if a person commits arson and someone inside the fire dies, they can also be charged with felony murder. This is regardless of whether the defendant had the intent to kill another person while committing the arson offense. It is important to note that felony murder is considered a capital offense, meaning the penalties are either life imprisonment without parole or the death penalty.

Example Case

  • July 2023 – The Miami-Dade police arrested a 24-year-old who was accused of setting fires at two separate gas stations in Florida City. According to the report, Daylet Uribazo Hernandez was detained by the Florida City police for a fire that occurred at the Orion Krome Xpress gas station. Hernandez allegedly used a cigarette lighter to set fire to one of the pumps. A security guard took images of Hernandez and immediately reported the fire to police, as patrons and employees all gathered and shouted at the suspect. This marked the third time Hernandez has allegedly tried to start a fire from a gas pump at the Orion Krome Xpress gas station.

Hernandez then proceeded to North Krome Avenue to a separate gas station location. She was documented on CCTV footage wearing a hospital gown, a sports bra, and black shorts. She then ignited a rag at the base of pump 6, while other patrons were actively pumping gas into their cars at nearby pumps.

The fire only caused minor damage, partially due to an employee who promptly stopped the fuel and used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. The responding officers noted that Hernandez appeared intoxicated and fell asleep before police could take any statements or read her the Miranda Rights.

Due to the presence of multiple people at the gas stations, Hernandez is facing two counts of felony murder and first-degree arson charges. She had been previously arrested by the Miami-Dade police on a separate arson charge and has an ongoing court case for that offense. Hernandez was being held at the Guilford Knight Correctional Center without bond.

Contact a Florida Defense Attorney with Pumphrey Law Firm

Starting a fire in Florida can lead to extensive legal consequences. Even if you did not have the intention of causing any damage or injuries, the act of purposefully starting a fire or explosion is enough for Florida prosecutors to charge you with arson. As previously mentioned, the severity of the penalties will be dependent on human occupancy. If you or a loved one has been recently arrested for arson or an arson-related offense, you should contact Pumphrey Law Firm.

Our defense attorneys have experience working on property related crimes such as arson. By working with one of our knowledgeable arson attorneys, our goal is to help strategize a defense to get your charges lessened or dismissed completely. Contact our office today at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message.

Written by Karissa Key

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