Washington Arson Laws

The offense of arson occurs when a person intentionally sets a fire or creates an explosion and damages property. Unlike other property crimes like shoplifting or vandalism, arson is considered very dangerous due to the destruction that it can cause which includes not only property damage, but also potential injury or even death.

Degrees of Arson

In Washington, you can be charged with either arson in the first degree (which is categorized as a Class A felony) or arson in the second degree, a Class B felony. However, if action doesn't meet the requirements of arson, you can be charged with the lesser offense of reckless burning.

Washington Arson Laws: An Overview

Although it's imperative to understand every detail of a given statute, reading a compressed version of the content can also be helpful in understanding the core aspects of the law. The chart below provides an overview of the arson laws in Washington.

Statutes

  • Wash. Rev. Code Section 9A:48.020 (first-degree arson)
  • Wash. Rev. Code Section 9A:48.30 (second-degree arson)
  • Wash. Rev. Code Section 9A:48.040 (first-degree reckless burning)
  • Wash. Rev. Code Section 9A:48.050 (second-degree reckless burning)
  • Wash. Rev. Code Section 9A:48.060 (reckless burning defense)

 

Arson Charges

 

Arson in the first degree: An individual commits this offense if they knowingly and maliciously cause a fire or explosion:

  • Which is "manifestly dangerous" (Washington courts will consider combustibility, proximity to other structures) to any human life, including fire fighters.
  • Which damages a dwelling;
  • In any building with a human being is present;
  • On property valued at $10,000 or more with intent to collect insurance proceeds;

Arson in the second degree: A person is guilty of arson in the second degree if they knowingly and maliciously cause a fire or explosion which damages a building, or any structure, wharf, dock, machine, engine, automobile or other motor vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, bridge, crop, timber, lumber, or fence.

Penalties

  • First degree: Punishable by maximum sentence of life in prison and fines up to $50,000
  • Second degree: Punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $20,000.

Reckless burning

An individual is guilty of reckless burning in the first degree if they knowingly cause a fire or explosion that recklessly damages:

  • A building or other structure, or
  • Any vehicle, railway car, aircraft, or watercraft, or
  • Any hay, grain, crop, or timber (cut or standing).

An individual is guilty of reckless burning in the second degree, if they knowingly cause a fire or explosion (whether on their own property or other person's property) and recklessly places the following in danger of destruction or damage:

  • A building or other structure, or
  • Any vehicle, railway car, aircraft, or watercraft, or
  • Any hay, grain, crop, or timber (cut or standing).

Penalties

  • First degree: Punishable by up to 5 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
  • Second degree: Punishable by up to 364 days in jail and up to $1,000 fine.

Possible Defenses

Arson defense:

  • Mistake of fact
  • Lack of intent

Reckless burning defense:

  • No other party but the defendant had an interest in the property, or
  • If other parties had an interest, all of them consented to defendant's conduct; and
  • The defendant's only intent in the property destruction was for a lawful purpose.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Washington Arson Laws: Related Resources

Getting Burned by Washington's Arson Laws? Contact a Legal Professional for Help

Because of the severity of the charge, an arson conviction can greatly impair your life. But don't forget that the burden of the evidence is on the prosecution to establish, beyond any reasonable doubt, that you committed each element of the crime charged. An experienced lawyer can evaluate the evidence against you and help ensure that you're not convicted of a crime you didn't commit. If you're facing arson charges in Washington, protect your future by consulting with a Washington criminal defense attorney today.

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