New York Arson Charges Explained

There are five degrees of New York arson charges. Specifically, they are:

  • Arson in the First Degree (NY PL 150.20)
  • Arson in the Second Degree (NY PL 150.15)
  • Arson in the Third Degree (NY PL 150.10)
  • Arson in the Fourth Degree (NY PL 150.05)
  • Arson in the Fifth Degree (NY PL 150.01)

The differences in the degrees of New York Arson depend on:

  • type of property damaged
  • intentional, reckless, or accidental intent
  • use of incendiary device
  • presence of another individual who is not part of the crime.

New York Arson in the Fifth Degree

Under New York law, Arson in the Fifth Degree is the least serious of all the arson charges. Penal Law 150.01 states that a person is guilty of Arson in the Fifth Degree when he or she intentionally damages the property of another without consent of the owner by intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion.

Penalties and Sentencing for New York Arson in the Fifth Degree

Arson in the Fifth Degree is a Class A misdemeanor. As such, this New York Arson charge can be punishable by up to 1 year in prison. A sentence of probation of either 2 or 3 years, community service or a conditional discharge may also be imposed on Arson in the Fifth Degree.

New York Arson in the Fourth Degree

Under New York Penal Law, a person is guilty of Arson in the Fourth Degree under Penal Law 150.05 when s/he recklessly damages a building or motor vehicle by intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion.

Affirmative Defense to New York Arson in the Fourth Degree Charges

It is an affirmative defense to NY Arson in the Fourth Degree that no one else other than a Defendant had a possessory interest in the damaged building or a motor vehicle.

Penalties and Sentencing for New York Arson in the Fourth Degree

Arson in the Fourth Degree is a Class E Non-violent Felony. This charge is punishable by 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison. However, a probationary sentence or a sentence with a conditional discharge may be imposed as a sentence on Arson in the Fourth Degree charge.

New York Arson in the Third Degree

Under New York Penal Law Section 150.10, a person is guilty of Arson in the Third Degree when s/he intentionally damages a a building or a motor vehicle by starting a fire or causing an explosion.

Affirmative Defense to New York Arson in the Third Degree

There are a number of affirmative defenses to Arson in the Third Degree:

  1. Defendant was the only person with ownership interest in the building or motor vehicle that was damaged by fire or explosion.
  2. Owner(s) of the building or motor vehicle collectively consented to the Defendant’s conduct.

These defenses only apply to situations where (a) the Defendant’s sole intent was to destroy the property for a lawful purpose and (b) Defendant had no reason to believe that his conduct might endanger the safety of another person or damage another building pr a motor vehicle.

Example of Affirmative Defense to NY Arson in the Third Degree

Let’s say that A set fire to his own home to destroy the house, rather than pay for a demolition. The sole reason A burns his own home is for a lawful purpose. If there is no reason for A to believe that his conduct would endanger the safety of another person or cause damage to another building or motor vehicle. Therefore, A has an affirmative defense to this New York arson charge.

Penalties and Sentencing for New York Arson in the Third Degree

Arson in the Third Degree is a Class C Non-violent Felony. As such this charge is punishable by 3 to 15 years in prison. However, probation or a sentence of 1 to 2 years is authorized for Arson in the Third Degree.

New York Arson in the Second Degree

Under New York Penal Law Section 150.15, an individual is guilty of Arson in the Second Degree when:

  1. He intentionally damages a building or a motor vehicle by starting a fire, AND
  2. When another person who is not a participant of the crime is present in such building or motor vehicle, AND
  3. The defendant has reason to know that the circumstances are such that there is a reasonable possibility that a person is present inside such building or motor vehicle.

Penalties and Sentencing for New York Arson in the Second Degree

Arson in the Second Degree is a Class B violent felony. As such, this particular charge is punishable by 5 to 25 years in prison. A shorter prison term or probation are not available sentences for Arson in the Second Degree.

New York Arson in the First Degree

Under New York Penal Law, a person is guilty of Arson in the First Degree when:

  1. He intentionally damages a building or motor vehicle by causing a fire or an explosion; AND
  2. Such fire or explosion is caused by an explosive or an incendiary device propelled, or thrown or placed inside or near a building or motor vehicle, OR
  3. When such fire or explosion is caused by an explosive (a) causes serious physical injury to another person other than a participant, OR (b) the explosion or fire was caused with the expectation or receipt of financial advantage or profit by the Defendant; OR
  4. Another person who is not a participant in the crime is present in such building or motor vehicle at the time; AND
  5. The defendant knows that fact or the circumstances are such as to render the presence of such person therein a reasonable possibility.

Definition of Incendiary Device

For Arson in the First Degree, the legal definition of “Incendiary Device” from New York Penal Law 150.20(2) is any breakable container designed to explode or produce unconfined combustion upon impact, containing flammable liquid and having a wick or a similar device capable of being ignited.

Penalties and Sentencing for New York Arson in the First Degree

Arson in the first degree is a Class A-I Violent Felony. Therefore, the minimum sentence that can be imposed is 15 to 40 years. The maximum sentence that can be imposed is life imprisonment.

Arson Charges and New York Bail Reform

Under New York’s Bail Reform Law, these arson charges are no longer subject to pre-trial detention or cash bail:

  • Arson In the Third Degree
  • Arson in the Third Degree as a Hate Crime
  • Arson In the Fourth Degree
  • Arson in the Fourth Degree as a Hate Crime
  • Arson In the Fifth Degree
  • Arson in the Fifth Degree as a Hate Crime

Thus, if you are charged with any of the above New York Arson charges, a judge cannot detain you pending the outcome of your case or set cash bail on you.

Other Criminal Charges Related to New York Arson

Frequently, prosecutors couple New York arson charges with other criminal charges, such as:

  • Reckless endangerment
  • Criminal Mischief
  • Manslaughter
  • Attempted Murder
  • Murder

Contact Top-Rated New York Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you or are loved one are facing arson charges, it is important that you speak to an experienced New York Criminal Defense Attorney regarding your case. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.