Arson and Malicious Burning Charges
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Have you been charged with arson or malicious burning? Here’s what you need to know about the charges you are facing.
The crime of Arson requires that the Defendant act both willfully and maliciously in setting the fire or causing the building to be burned, which is the state of mind necessary to commit arson. Willful and malicious convey two distinct and necessary elements of the crime and have different meanings.
For purposes of Arson, the word “willfully” means that the act was intentional and by design, rather than an act that is thoughtless or accidental. A person acting willfully intends both his or her conduct and the resulting harm. The requirement of willfulness means that accidentally or negligently caused burnings are not arson.
For purposes of Arson, the Commonwealth must also prove that the Defendant acted maliciously or with malice. “Malice” characterizes all acts done with an evil disposition, with a wrong and unlawful motive or purpose or the willful doing of an injurious act without lawful excuse. . In Commonwealth v. Mezzanotti, 26 Mass. App. Ct. 522, 529 (1988), the Appeals Court stated, “The Niziolek instruction simply emphasizes the fact that arson encompasses the usual concept of malice, that is, the wilful commission of an unlawful act. Excluded from that concept are acts that are lawful or the result of an accident or mistake.”
The crime of Malicious Burning under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 266, § 5 requires the same state of mind as Arson under Chapter 266, § 1 in that the Defendant’s actions must be both willful and malicious. “Wilful” for purposes of Malicious Burning, means intentionally and by design eliminating accidental or negligent burnings. (Involving malicious burning of motor vehicle) “Maliciously” or “malice” for purposes of Malicious Burning means that the burning was done with a wrong and unlawful motive or purpose; if it is the willful doing of a harmful act without lawful excuse.
Arson [Ch. 266, § 1] and Malicious Burning [Ch. 266, § 5] both require that the Defendant acted with malice and the absence of accident. Put differently; the Commonwealth must prove that the fire was intentional and not accidental. Therefore, the Commonwealth has the burden of proving that the fire had an incendiary cause rather than the fire having an accidental cause.
The Commonwealth has the burden of proving absence of accidental cause as an element of Malicious Burning because absence of accidental cause is a component of proving malice. If a fire was caused accidentally, it is not malicious. Conversely, elimination of accidental cause leads to the conclusion that the fire was intentionally set. Accidental causes of the fire were eliminated leading to the conclusion that the fire was intentionally set. Thus, proving malice and lack of accidental cause are one in the same.
If You are Facing Serious Charges of Arson or Malicious Burning You Need an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney on Your Side
If you have been charged with arson, malicious burning or any other crime you could face jail time and end up with a criminal record that can affect your future negatively. To get the experienced legal help you need, call our Massachusetts law offices today at (508) 584-6955 for your free legal consultation.