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Any criminal charge for arson requires experienced representation. Arson cases often involve detailed chemical analysis, digital images and video analysis. These complicated cases can revolve around expert witness and testimony about how a fire started. Prosecutors often attempt to build cases based on highly circumstantial evidence and speculation.

A surprising number of arson cases involve juveniles who are playing with matches or a lighter often out of boredom or curiosity. Other cases involve a more calculated attempt to defraud an insurance company. Florida has a separate statute for burning to defraud an insurer or an insurance company.

Never talk to any law enforcement officer, including a member of the Fire Marshall’s Office or an agent with the Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations, until you have retained an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.

Arson Defense Attorney in Tallahassee

Arson charges are serious and the cases often are complex. If you are charged with arson in North Florida, it is crucial you contact an experienced Tallahassee arson defense attorney to represent you in the case.

The criminal defense lawyers at Pumphrey Law have experience representing clients in arson cases throughout Leon County and the surrounding areas of North Florida. The skilled team will aggressively defend you and fight for the best possible outcome. Call (850) 681-7777 to schedule a free consultation.

Information About Arson Charges in North Florida

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Florida’s Arson Statute Section 806.01

According to Florida Statute 806.01, an individual commits the crime of arson when they willfully and unlawfully, or while in the commission of any felony, damage a dwelling or structure, occupied or unoccupied, using fire or an explosive. Arson can also be committed when an individual willfully and unlawfully, or while in the commission of any felony, damages any structure not referred to in subsection (1) of the statute. To learn more about arson, visit our landing page, here.

“Structure” vs. “Dwelling”

According to Florida Statute 801.011(1), “structure” in this statute refers to a building of any kind, any enclosed area with a roof over it, any real property or additions to the real property, and tent or other portable building, and any vehicle, vessel, watercraft, or aircraft.

A “dwelling” is defined under Florida Statute 810.011(2), which provides that a dwelling is a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it and is designed to be occupied by people living there at night, together with the curtilage (like a porch).

Arson Charges in Tallahassee, FL

There are two different charges for arson under Florida law: first- and second-degree arson.

First-Degree Arson

In order to commit first-degree arson, an individual must willfully and unlawfully start a fire or use an explosive, or do so while committing a felony, that damages:

  • Any dwelling, like a home or apartment complex, occupied or unoccupied.
  • Any structure where people are normally present like jails, prisons, detention centers, hospitals, nursing homes, other health care facilities, department stores, office buildings, businesses, churches, or educational institutions.
  • Any other kind of structure, dwelling, or building, that the individual knew or had reason to believe would be occupied during the time of the arson.

Second-Degree Arson

In order to commit second-degree arson, an individual must willfully and unlawfully start a fire or use an explosive, or do so while committing a felony, that damages:

  • Any property not enumerated in the section discussing first degree arson.

Penalties for Arson Charges

The penalties for arson charges will depend on whether the individual is charged with first-degree arson or second-degree arson.

First-Degree Arson Penalties

Under Florida law, this crime is a first-degree felony and if an individual is convicted, they will serve up to 30 years in the Department of Corrections, 30 years of probation or community control, and will need to pay a $10,000 fine. The minimum sentence for first-degree arson is 21 months in prison.

Second-Degree Arson Penalties

Under Florida law, this crime is a second-degree felony and if an individual is convicted, they will serve up to 15 years in the Department of Corrections, 15 years of probation or community control, and must pay a $10,000

Defenses to Arson Charges

There are many defenses to arson charges, though several of these will depend on the specific factual circumstances surrounding the charge. Some defenses include:

The Personal Property Exception

An individual may lawfully burn their own property as long as they have no criminal motive like insurance fraud or revenge.

No Motive

Arson, if not committed while the individual is also committing a felony, must be done willfully. The term “willfully” describes the mens rea or criminal motive needed for the crime. If the State cannot prove that the accused set a fire to a property or otherwise damaged the property with an explosive willfully, they will not meet their burden.

Lack of Reliable Identification

The State must prove that the accused is the one who caused the property to be damaged using fire or an explosive. If the State cannot provide proper identification of the accused, then they have not met their burden. There can be many issues with identification, including unreliable eyewitness testimony, unduly suggestive police procedures, and other issues. 

Burning to Defraud Insurer or Insurance Company

Florida Statute § 817.233 prohibits burning to defraud an insurer or insurance company. To prove the crime of Burning to Defraud an Insurer, the assistant state attorney must prove the following four elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant either burned, set fire to, caused to be burned, attempted to burn, attempted to set fire to, aided, counseled or procured the burning of a structure, building or personal property
  • The property belonged to a certain person
  • The property was insured against loss or damage by fire
  • The defendant acted willfully and with a fully formed, conscious intent to injure or defraud the insurer of the property

Additional Resources for Arson Offenses in Florida

  • Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention (FACAP)
    Founded in 1975, the FACAP fights arson and insurance fraud throughout the state. The association includes attorneys, investigators, private fire and arson investigators, officers in the Fire Marshal’s office and agents of the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations. Visit the website to learn about recent arson-related news from across the state. Learn more about the Annual FACAP Arson Seminar.
  • Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations
    In Florida, arson cases often are investigated by the Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations, a Division of the State Fire Marshal. Originally established in 1973, the Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations conducts fire, arson, explosives and related criminal investigations. On Feb. 12, 2013, it was accredited by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation. Julius Halas currently serves as the Division Director.

Florida Bureau of Fire & Arson Investigations
200 East Gaines Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0322

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been charged with arson, it is important to contact a knowledgeable and experience Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss the facts of your case and explore your options. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm are practiced in representing individuals charged with arson crimes and can ensure that the rights of you or a loved one are protected throughout the process. Call (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today for an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.


Article last updated July 23, 2021.

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