In March, the Birmingham police and the fire department arrived at an abandoned school one evening after reports of a fire. The fire department extinguished the fire and the police followed up with an investigation. The police noticed several trash cans that were on fire. They also noted that the school building was not in use. Based on these factors, the police determined that someone had committed arson.
In January, the Montgomery police and fire department responded to a fire in an abandoned building. The police suspected arson because the building had no power. In February, the police arrested a man and charged him with arson.
This article will discuss the following defenses when faced with an arson charge in Alabama:
- Insufficient evidence
The Alabama Criminal Code states: “A person commits the crime of arson in the first degree if he intentionally damages a building by starting or maintaining a fire or causing an explosion, and when:
(1) Another person is present in such building at the time, and (2) The actor knows that fact, or the circumstances are such as to render the presence of a person therein a reasonable possibility.” Moreover,
“[a] person commits the crime of arson in the second degree if he intentionally damages a building by starting or maintaining a fire or causing an explosion.”
The language in the Alabama statute criminalizing arson requires intent to start a fire. Therefore, the prosecution has the burden of proving intent. If someone started a fire accidentally and the fire damages a building, that person has not committed arson because he or she did not have the requisite intent.
To prove intent, the prosecution will use the surrounding facts and circumstances to demonstrate intent. In the above cases, the basic facts suggest that there was intent to start a building fire because either the building was not in use or the building had no power. This suggests that this was not an accidental electric fire. Nonetheless, surrounding circumstances may indicate that the fire was accidental.
Insufficient evidence can be an effective defense. Remember, the prosecution is tasked with proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, a defense attorney’s job is to create doubt. Here, a defense attorney will want to read a copy of the fire report and scrutinize it for information. What is the basis of the conclusion? Are there surrounding structures that may have caused the fire? Are there other installations in the area that may have caused the fire? Does the report provide this information? These questions may be telling.
The report itself is often flawed. It is common that fires consume so much that there is not much left of the original structure. This would make an investigation very difficult. As such, the investigation may be flawed because there is a lack of credible evidence available.
If you have been accused of arson in Alabama, contact the law firm of Parkman White, experienced Alabama criminal attorneys.