Arson is the deliberate act of damaging or destroying a building or home through fire or explosives. The law is tough on anyone found guilty of burning down other people’s property or structures. However, in St. Louis, Missouri, not all fire cases qualify as violent arson crimes. Only those who deliberately or intentionally commit arson face the most severe punishments outlined by the law.
First-degree arson is the most severe and occurs when an arsonist intentionally sets fire to a building while knowing that individuals are inside or near the building. Punishment depends on the impact on the victims’ lives.
If loss of life occurs due to the fire, it becomes a Class A felony that could result in ten to thirty years in prison. If no death or injury occurs inside or near the building, it is classified as a Class B felony and could result in five to fifteen years in prison.
Second-degree arson charges are applied when an arsonist intentionally sets fire to a building but isn’t aware of the presence of individuals inside or near the structure. If charged with second-degree arson, classification will be based on the impact on the victims’ lives.
If no one is injured, second-degree arson is classified as a Class D felony, which is punishable by a maximum of 7 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If someone is killed or injured, it becomes a Class B felony and could result in five to fifteen years in prison.
For an arson case to be classified as third-degree, the arsonist must have knowingly used fire or explosives that accidentally destroyed a habitable structure. Missouri laws still find this a punishable act due to its reckless nature. Third-degree arson is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by one year of jail time and a fine of up to $2,000.
Arson versus burning
Under Missouri laws, there is a clear distinction between arson and burning based on the type of dwelling, building, or structure destroyed by the fire:
- Knowingly burning: when damage occurs to another person’s non-habitable property.
- Reckless burning: when accidental damage occurs to property through the intentional and careless use of fire or explosives.
- Negligent burning: a misdemeanor charge when accidental damages occur to someone’s house by fire or explosives.
Missouri law provides clear distinctions around types of arson, as well as the difference between arson and burning. These distinctions outline applicable punishments for offenders under each violation.