Under California Penal Codes 451 and 452, there are two main types of arson charges. One of them involves deliberately and maliciously setting a fire; this is the criminal act called 'arson' and is a felony. The second is called “reckless arson” or “reckless burning” which also involves setting a fire to property or forest land, albeit without the malicious willfulness of felony arson.
The following are three things you should know about reckless burning:
1) Reckless burning can either be a misdemeanor or a felony
Prosecutors make the decision based on what was burned and whether anyone was seriously injured.
2) “Reckless” is not the same as “careless”
Someone can make an accidental mistake that results in a fire, but this wouldn't necessarily lead to charges of reckless burning. For example, if you build a campfire in an area where it's permitted and then make reasonable efforts to put it out, but the wind still catches a lingering ember and starts a forest fire, your actions might not be construed as reckless burning. However, if you start a campfire in an area where there are signs telling you that campfires aren't allowed, or where there's a lot of dry brush, you're more likely to face reckless burning charges after an ensuing forest fire.
3) Recklessness means being aware of the risks
When you start a fire recklessly, you're expected to have known about the risks of your actions but disregarded them. The knowledge you're expected to have and the types of actions you take are judged based on what a reasonable person would do in a similar situation. For example, a reasonable person is expected to know that throwing a cigarette into a forest underbrush or among a bunch of containers carrying gasoline would be a serious hazard. Prosecutors need to convince a jury that you knew about the risks but chose to ignore them, even if you didn't mean to willfully start a fire.
Don't hesitate to contact our law firm where a top criminal defense attorney to help you with your case if you're charged with reckless burning. It's possible that your actions constitute an accident, and that you weren't aware of the risks. It's also possible that you're completely innocent and weren't even on the scene. If you live in the Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Wildomar, Menifee, Perris, Hemet, Banning, Corona or Riverside areas, reach out to us for powerful legal representation. We can help!