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3 Defenses If You’re Charged With Arson

Jeff Cole
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Partner at Zimmer, Duncan & Cole

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A person arrested for arson faces serious felony charges, a possible lengthy prison sentence, and a substantial fine. Arson involves intentionally starting a fire or an explosion with the intent to destroy or damage a structure. It includes insurance fraud if a fire is started in order to collect insurance proceeds. In South Dakota, there are several classes of arson, and most sentences range from 10 to 25 years imprisonment and fines between $20,000 and $50,000.

Common Defenses That Could Get Your Case Dismissed

If you are charged with arson, there are a number of defenses you can use that might get your case dismissed. Three of those defenses are:

  • Lack of proof of intent. The prosecutor must prove every element of arson “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is a very high standard of proof. He must show that a person intentionally started the fire and intended to destroy or damage a structure. If the person started a fire but it can be shown that it was caused accidentally or negligently, the charges may be dismissed.
  • Insufficient evidence. The evidence is usually destroyed in the fire, and there are often no witnesses to the start of the fire. In these cases, prosecutors must rely on circumstantial evidence to try to prove a person’s guilt. Sometimes a person can successfully argue that there is insufficient proof that the fire was set intentionally, especially when it was set accidentally.
  • Invalid science. Sometimes experts are used to prove how a fire was caused or to explain other key facts in the fire. A person charged with arson may need to hire his own expert to establish the cause of the fire.

There are other defenses that can be used, such as Miranda warning violations and use of an invalid search warrant. That is why it is critical for a person to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately after being charged with this serious felony.

If you have been charged with arson, start an online chat, or call us at 888-733-2992 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. At Zimmer, Duncan & Cole, LLP, we will thoroughly investigate your case, explain your legal rights, and fight to get any charges dismissed or reduced.


Category: Criminal Defense


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