Physical Evidence in Arson Cases
California laws make it a crime to intentionally or recklessly set for to a structure, forest land or property. You could be charged with arson even if the property you set fire to is your own. The law views the act as arson if the property is a building or piece of real estate, if you cause the fire to your personal property to commit insurance fraud. You could, of course, face charges if the fire you are accused of setting causes injuries to another person, causes fatalities or damage to someone else’s property or land.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, nationwide, only about 10 percent of fires where arson is involved ends up in criminal charges. This is because there are often no eyewitnesses or people who actually see the fire being set. More importantly, any type of physical evidence is often destroyed in the fire.
Lack of Physical Evidence
A number of California fires, some of them fatal, have failed to yield arson charges because investigators simply could not find the physical evidence that was necessary to determine who did it. For example, some of the biggest fires in California history including the 1993 Malibu fire and the 1994 Laguna Beach fire that burned 441 homes, were never solved.
A majority of arson cases tend to be built on circumstantial evidence or evidence that depends on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact. When it comes to an arson case, there are typically few if any witnesses. A device that sparks the fire such as a match or a cigarette butt might itself be destroyed or burned in the fire.
Proving the Case
When it comes to California arson cases, prosecutors have been able to, in some cases, obtain convictions without any physical evidence and purely with circumstantial evidence where juries are asked to infer that the defendant committed the crime based on the circumstances of the case. However, it is much more challenging for a prosecutor to build an entire case purely on circumstantial evidence. This is because the prosecution, to obtain a conviction, must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the arson. And physical evidence is an important part of that.
An arson case is not easy to prove. It requires an extremely complex and sophisticated investigative process, which is why these cases are assigned to special units and elite teams of investigators who have the knowledge and the capability to analyze chemical and other evidence to make determinations. As criminal defense lawyers, we conduct our own independent investigations and expert witnesses who can clarify to jurors that what are perceived to be indicators of arson such as melted wiring or uneven burn patterns are not really reliable ways to conclude that the fire was caused by arson.
Depending on the nature and circumstances of the case, an arson conviction could result even in murder charges, if the fire resulted in deaths. This means a conviction could mean a life in prison sentence. The consequences of an arson conviction could be life-changing. Our arson defense lawyers can help you fight the charges and protect your rights every step of the way. Call us to find out how we can help you.