We Didn’t Start the Fire! Understanding New Jersey’s Penalties for Arson

Arson is classified as a violent crime in New Jersey and incurs appropriately serious penalties. However, how much time can you get for arson? And how expensive are the fines? The answers to these questions can differ depending on the circumstances, so let’s review the details regarding New Jersey arson charges.

The Four Degrees of Arson New Jersey

According to New Jersey law, arson is considered deliberately or recklessly causing a fire or explosion. In many cases, individuals commit arson to burn down a building with the intention of collecting insurance money from the damage. You can also be found guilty of arson if you set fire to vehicles and land or if your actions lead to a forest fire.

Arson is broken down into four degrees depending on the circumstances, which consist of:

First Degree

Anyone who chooses to pay someone or accept compensation from another to intentionally start a fire is found guilty of first-degree arson — this is known as “arson for hire.” Additionally, the first degree is also reserved for those who set a house of worship, like a church or mosque, ablaze.

Second Degree

A second-degree charge is given if an individual’s actions meet certain conditions. For example, deliberately putting another person in danger with a fire or explosion and intentionally destroying a forest is considered second-degree arson. You can also be found guilty if you cause a fire with a specific purpose in mind, such as destroying property to collect insurance from the damage, or so it can be exempt from zoning regulations.

Third Degree

Third-degree arson charges are given for those who cause a fire or explosion that recklessly endanger another person. However, unlike the first two degrees, the third degree pertains to situations where the defendant does not purposely place another in danger. As a result, reckless conduct must be proven in court instead of purposeful conduct.

Fourth Degree

If you have a legal duty to prevent a fire but fail to put it out, you will be charged with fourth-degree arson. This degree also sometimes applies when you fail to report a fire in a prompt manner or if you don’t control or report a fire that was started on your property — even if it was started legally.

New Jersey’s Arson Charges

As with many other crimes, how much time you can get for arson varies greatly depending on the circumstances. In this case, the penalties are determined by the degree of the crime, with the first degree having the most severe and the fourth having the least. Here’s an overview of the arson charges for each respective degree.

First Degree Charges

First-degree arson charges result in up to a $200,000 fine and a 10 to 20-year prison sentence. However, you’ll receive 15 years with no parole if your fire targeted a place of worship.

Second Degree Charges

A second-degree charge can lead to a $150,000 fine and any payments to cover the injuries of emergency workers who responded to the fire. You may serve 5 to 10 years of prison time and must stay for 85% of the sentence because of the No Early Release Act, which covers aggravated arson.

Third Degree Charges

For third-degree arson charges, defendants can pay up to $15,000 and spend five years in prison. However, there will be a presumption of non-incarceration in the event the defendant has no prior convictions. 

Fourth Degree Charges

Lastly, fourth-degree arson convictions can reach up to $10,000 maximum and incur up to 18 months in prison.

Were You Charged With Arson? Call Shugar Law Office for Professional Defense

If you’re looking for a Freehold criminal defense lawyer to help with an arson charge, contact Shugar Law Office. Our team of professional criminal defense attorneys can assist you with numerous other legal charges as well, including NJ speeding fines. For more information and to schedule a consultation, give us a call today.

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