Arson is generally defined as the willful or malicious burning of property. However, not all arson crimes are the same. In Virginia, there are several different arson crimes, each of which has its own penalty.
Arson Crimes in Virginia
Virginia has different arson laws depending on the type of property involved in the alleged crime. Some of the specific laws include:
Burning or Destroying a Dwelling House
Virginia Code §18.2-77 makes it a crime for a person:
- To burn or use an explosive device to destroy a dwelling house
- To aid, counsel, or procure the burning or destruction of a dwelling house
A dwelling house includes:
- One’s own house
- Another house where someone usually lives
- An occupied hotel
- An occupied hospital
- An occupied mental health facility
- An occupied railroad car
- An occupied boat, vessel, or river craft where someone usually lives
- An occupied jail or prison
- An occupied church or building owned or leased by a church that is immediately adjacent to the church
This crime is a felony punishable by a prison term of not less than five years and up to life imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000.
If the building was unoccupied at the time of the burning or destruction, then the crime is considered a Class 4 felony, and the potential sentence is two to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Burning or Destroying a Meeting House
According to Virginia Code §18.2-79 it is a crime:
- To maliciously burn or use an explosive device to maliciously destroy a meeting house
- To aid, counsel, or procure the burning or destroying of a meeting house.
Properties included in this section of the law are:
- Meeting houses
- Institutions of higher education
- Other buildings of public use (with certain exceptions)
If the act takes place when a person is inside the building, then it is a Class 3 felony with a potential punishment of five to twenty years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
However, if no one is in the building at the time of the alleged crime, then the person accused of arson may be charged with a Class 4 felony and face a potential sentence of two to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Burning or Destroying Another Type of Building or Structure
Virginia Code §18.2-80 further explains the crime of arson and makes it a crime for a person:
- To maliciously burn or use an explosive device to destroy a building
- To burn or destroy a building with the intent to defraud an insurance company or another person
- To aid, counsel, or procure the burning or destruction of any building or structure.
For purposes of this section of the law, a building or structure includes a:
- Other structures not explicitly included in another section of the arson law
If the crime is committed when someone is in the building or structure, then it is a Class 3 felony with a potential penalty of five to twenty years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
If the offense occurs when no one is in the building or structure, then it is generally a Class 4 felony punishable by two to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $100.000. However, if the property is worth less than $500, then it is a Class 1 misdemeanor with a potential sentence of up to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both a jail sentence and a fine.
Burning or Destroying of Personal Property
Virginia law also addresses the burning or destruction of personal property in Virginia Code §18.2-81. According to this section of the law, a person who maliciously or with intent to defraud an insurance company or other person, sets fire to, burns, or destroys personal property or crops by explosive device—or causes one of those things to happen—has committed a crime.
If the value of the property is $500 or more, then the crime is a Class 4 felony punishable by two to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
If the property value is less than $500, then the crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and the possible sentence is a jail sentence of up to 12 months, a fine of up to $2,500, or both a fine and jail time.
Burning a Building or Structure While Inside With Intent to Commit a Felony
Virginia Code §18.2-82 makes it a Class 4 felony for someone who is in a building with the intent to commit a felony to burn the building. This section only applies if the burning is not punishable under a different section of the arson law. The potential sentence includes a prison sentence of two to ten years and a fine of up to $100,000.
Above, we discussed laws about burning or destroying structures and personal property. However, Virginia Arson Law also includes sections on bomb threats, chemical bombs, creating bombs, and burning fences, grass and woods.
Call an Experienced Virginia Criminal Defense Lawyer After Any Arson Charge
Before you can be convicted of arson, the Commonwealth of Virginia must prove the specific elements of the crime. In arson cases, definitions matter, and there are possible defenses.
Our experienced Virginia criminal defense lawyers will carefully investigate your case, consider all possible defenses, and protect all of your legal rights before and after sentencing. Contact us today to make sure that you are treated fairly.