When people in North Carolina face arson charges after a fire, they may not be aware of the different types of allegations that may be involved. Under state law, arson is considered a more serious form of property crime than vandalism or similar offenses. If people were present at the time of the fire, additional charges could also be added. However, even if no one else was present, the likelihood of injury to passers-by or emergency response personnel may be cited to justify higher sentencing requests.
There are two different degrees of arson in North Carolina law. First-degree arson applies to intentional burning of a home, mobile home or trailer while the structure was occupied. On the other hand, second-degree arson involves burning an unoccupied structure. While first-degree arson is a class D felony, second-degree arson is considered a Class G felony. There are also separate Class H felony charges for people accused of burning schools, churches, religious buildings or government structures.
While the state’s sentencing formula can be complex, people convicted of first-degree arson may face 36 to 160 months behind bars. On the other hand, a second-degree arson conviction may carry a sentence of eight to 31 months. Class H felony convictions can range between four and 25 months at sentencing. There are a number of defenses against facing arson charges, including showing that the fire was accidental rather than deliberate or that the state did not prove that the defendant was the person who started the fire.
Arson charges can have a serious impact on a person’s life, leading to substantial jail time or a felony criminal record if convicted. A criminal defense attorney could help someone accused of arson to show that they were not responsible for the fire and work to avoid a conviction.