View Full Version : Arson and Minors

Rhoda Nightingale
05-18-2013, 11:57 PM
So, let's say a teenage girl--16--is unhappy with her living situation and sets fire to the house. Not on purpose; she's burning a stash of photographs with her and her aunt, who's had legal guardianship of her since her parents died and is much stricter. The fire then gets out of control and does enough damage that they have to move.

What would the technical names for the charges be, and is it possible for them to be dropped is the aunt decides to drop them? Is there money/jail time involved? I already have her in a hospital being treated for burns, but I'll ask about details on that in another thread I guess. Right now, I'm more worried about where the girl is physically allowed to go once she's finished with medical treatment.

(The aunt wasn't at home during the incident--wasn't hurt.)

Thanks in advance!

05-19-2013, 12:10 AM
When and where does your story take place? Wales in 1891? Japan in 1957? Manhattan in 2009?

Answers to legal (and medical) questions always depend heavily on when and where the story takes place.

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Rhoda Nightingale
05-19-2013, 12:43 AM
It's American Suburbia circa now-ish. I haven't really picked a state yet. Um... Maryland? (Most of my story takes place in a dreamworld that's not bound by any rules, so this is the aftermath where everybody wakes up that I'm trying to figure out.)

As far as the charges, you're right, technical terms I can figure out on my own, so never mind. What I'm really interested in is whether the aunt can drop the charges, if the crime is accidental but still extremely damaging and expensive.

Would you rather I lock the thread and come back after I do my own Googling?

05-19-2013, 01:43 AM
I can't make that call. I am sooo not a moderator. But I can't imagine an actual moderator asking for you to do this, considering the amount of company you keep. :D

I'm just trying to increase the odds of future OPs always including place and time in their posts. ;)

Maryland circa 2013--so you're looking for current Maryland law in malicious destruction of property. Intent is a factor in most laws.

In addition to not being a moderator, I'm also not a lawyer. Absent intent to destroy her aunt's property, it doesn't look like she'd meet the requirements for 1st degree arson. 2nd degree arson also requires intent.

6-103. Arson in the second degree.

(a) Prohibited.- A person may not willfully and maliciously set fire to or burn a structure that belongs to the person or to another.

(b) Penalty.- A person who violates this section is guilty of the felony of arson in the second degree and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 20 years or a fine not exceeding $30,000 or both.

(c) Prohibited defense.- It is not a defense to a prosecution under this section that the person owns the property.

Try looking here:

Your character could certainly be charged and gotten off by a good lawyer. Or the police/prosecutor could believe her that she didn't mean to cause a fire and not charge her.

Siri Kirpal
05-19-2013, 01:47 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Accidentally setting a fire is not arson in most places, as far as I know.

And nearly everywhere, even if something is a crime, if the victim doesn't press charges, the police aren't interested in the case. (I can vouch for that one personally.)

Accidentally setting a fire that destroys many homes and lives is another matter (as in the case of a lost person sending up a flare during Santa Ana conditions in Southern California).


Siri Kirpal

05-19-2013, 01:58 AM
As a non-lawyerly WAG, I could see the police possibly looking at some form of reckless endangerment--after all she recklessly endangered the firefighters. I agree with Siri Kirpal that she probably wouldn't be charged with arson if they believe her story of a fireplace fire getting out of hand.

What do you want to have happen for your story? Do you want her charged and gotten off in a trial? Do you want her to just be let go? I think either scenario would be OK. And if she's in the hospital for a while, the legal stuff might be mostly dealt with during that time and her aunt arranges to just "take her home" when she gets out.

The Aunt would have to have a home to take her. Either temporary housing (the Red Cross or insurance can help with that) or a new permanent home. If the Aunt is homeless, DCF will be reluctant* to let the child go to her.

*That may be a charming understatement.

05-19-2013, 02:22 AM
This is going to be very state specific. As part of the arson statutes in Texas, we have a provision that makes it a crime to intentionally start a fire that damages or destroys the property of another. (TPC 28.02 (a-2)) Honestly, I've never worked a case where this was the charge filed, but it is on the books. All you need is intent to set the fire. It is different from our regular arson statute which requires intent to set the fire and intent to destroy or damage.

However, her conduct could fall under something else. But an accident is an accident. I would imagine she would probably face some very tough questions from the investigators though.

05-19-2013, 02:25 AM
What does your plot need? This can range from being yelled at to adult charges and some prison time. So what does your plot need and then I can give you an answer.

Damage to a house and the aunt doesn't matter. There's an insurance company involved, and yes, they want charges. Further, risks to public safety (putting out a fire is a risk to firefighters) are charged by the police, so the aunt's decision to drop charges doesn't matter.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

05-19-2013, 02:36 AM
There's an insurance company involved, and yes, they want charges.

This is an important bit. I've never yet come across an insurance agency that did not want to pursue charges if there were charges to be filed.

Also, if the fire is bad enough, they will send their own investigators out to look at the scene.