Arson is defined in California Penal Code 451.
A person is guilty of arson when they willfully and maliciously set fire to any structure, forest land or property; burn it or cause it to be burned; or aid, counsel or procure the burning of it.
Arson can be punished in various ways, including life in prison depending on the circumstances of the individual case and the allegations. Under certain limited circumstances an individual can be imprisoned for 10 years to life under California Penal Code § 451.5.
Absent the conditions in California Penal Code § 451.5, arson can be punished as follows:
- (a) Arson that causes great bodily injury is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for five, seven, or nine years.
(b) Arson that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for three, five, or eight years.
(c) Arson of a structure or forest land is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years.
(d) Arson of property is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two, or three years. For purposes of this paragraph, arson of property does not include one burning or causing to be burned his or her own personal property unless there is an intent to defraud or there is injury to another person or another person’s structure, forest land, or property.
(e) In the case of any person convicted of violating this section while confined in a state prison, prison road camp, prison forestry camp, or other prison camp or prison farm, or while confined in a county jail while serving a term of imprisonment for a felony or misdemeanor conviction, any sentence imposed shall be consecutive to the sentence for which the person was then confined.
An arson conviction is a strike under California Three Strikes Law and is also considered a serious felony in California. An arson conviction under paragraph (a) or (b) of California Penal Code § 451 is also considered a violent felony and will have an immediate effect on any current conviction.
Arson is also one of the crimes where specific punishment enhancements are identified in the text of the penal code. California Penal Code § 451.1 provides for increased punishment of either three, four or five years, if certain facts are found to be true. Examples of facts that can increase punishment are, a previous conviction for arson, if a firefighter, peace officer, or other emergency personnel suffered great bodily injury as a result of the offense or if the accused proximately caused multiple structures to burn in any single of arson.
If an enhancement applies, any punishment for the enhancement will run consecutive, meaning back-to-back, with the main punishment.