In addition to possibly serving time in a county jail or state prison and/or paying significant fines, you could be required to register as a convicted arson offender if you are found guilty of arson charges in Orange County. In which case, you would have to routinely update your local law enforcement agency of your whereabouts, similar to the registration requirements of convicted sex offenders.

The deliberate act of setting fire to anything in Orange County may be charged as a crime, and any time this criminal act involves fire set to a structure, forest land, or another type of property, arson charges may be brought.

There are many different types of arson crimes, each of which carries its own penalties and consequences for a criminal conviction.


The crime of arson is one that sparks fear and anger, especially in California, where a total of 8,527 fires burned an area of 1,893,913 acres of land in 2018, but it is important to understand that fire doesn’t always mean arson.

There are plenty of situations in which a fire set accidentally or one set for the purpose of a controlled burn can suddenly burn out of control and cause unintentional damage to a building or property.

Unfortunately, when the police arrive on the scene of a fire that causes property damage, injury, or death, arson may be their first assumption.

At Seyb Law Group, our lawyers have more than 60 years of combined criminal defense experience and we are committed to helping each of our clients get the best possible outcome in their criminal case, regardless of what crime or crimes they may be facing.

We also offer potential clients a free, no-obligation consultation, which means you can speak to one of our experienced Orange County arson defense attorneys about your case, with no obligation to hire our firm.


Under Orange County law, arson is a “property destruction” crime occurring when a person voluntarily and intentionally, or maliciously, sets fire to a structure, forest land, or another type of property.

The lesser crime of “reckless burning” in Orange County is the act of unlawfully causing a fire without willful or malicious intent, a factor that would elevate the crime to arson. You could be charged with the crime of Orange County arson or reckless burning if you:

  • Set fire to someone else’s home or car as an act of revenge (arson)
  • Start a forest fire by throwing a lit cigarette into dry brush despite posted warning signs (reckless burning)
  • Decide to burn paperwork in your backyard with controlled fire, but the wind causes the fire to spread to your neighbor’s house (reckless burning)
  • Light a match near highly flammable materials (reckless burning)
  • Burndown your own store as part of an insurance fraud scheme (arson)

Yes, you can even be charged with arson in Orange County if you set fire to your own property if the property in question is a building or other real estate, you set the fire to commit insurance fraud or for another fraudulent purpose, or the fire causes injury to another person or damages another person’s home, property or land.

It is important to understand, however, that true accidents, such as unintentionally leaving the stove on or forgetting to blow out a candle and thereby starting a fire, do not make you guilty of arson or reckless burning under Orange County law.

California Arson Penal Codes § 451 PC and § 452 PC

California Penal Code § 451 PC and § 452 PC make it a crime to either willfully and maliciously (“arson”) or recklessly (“reckless burning” or “reckless arson”) set fire to any building, forest land, or property. Under PC § 451, to act “willfully” is to commit an act willingly or on purpose, whether or not you meant to break the law, and to act “maliciously” is to intentionally commit a wrongful act or do something with the unlawful intent to injure, annoy or defraud another person.

Under PC § 452, to act “recklessly” in setting a fire means that you are aware that your actions present a considerable risk of causing a fire, you ignore that risk, and in doing so, you act in a way that is gross deviation from the way a reasonable person would act in a similar situation.


arson charges

The penalties associated with an Orange County arson or reckless burning charge can vary depending on several factors, including the type of property that was burned, whether the fire was set willfully or only recklessly, and whether or not someone else was injured in the fire.

Under Penal Code § 452 PC, the reckless burning of personal property is considered a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or up-to $1,000 in fines.

However, if the fire burns a building or forest land or causes great bodily injury, the crime becomes a “wobbler,” meaning it can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense. The potential sentences associated with reckless burning may include the following:

  • If the fire burns a building or forest land – up to six months in county jail (misdemeanor), or 16 months, two or three years in state prison (felony);
  • If the fire burns an inhabited building or property – up to one year in county jail (misdemeanor), or two, three or four years in state prison (felony); and
  • If the fire causes great bodily injury – up to one year in county jail (misdemeanor), or two, four or six years in state prison (felony).

Under Penal Code § 451 PC, the act of arson is always a felony offense, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up-to three years in prison if the defendant’s or someone else’s property is burned as a result of the arson, up to six years in prison if an uninhabited structure or forest property is burned, up to eight years in prison if an inhabited building is burned, or up to nine years if the arson causes another person to suffer great bodily injury.

Furthermore, if the prosecutor can prove that you set the fire for financial gain, you may face an additional fine of $50,000 or twice the amount of your actual or anticipated gain.

A defendant may be charged with the crime of “aggravated” arson and face an additional one to five years in prison if any of the following factors exist:

  • The defendant has a prior arson conviction,
  • Multiple structures were burned,
  • A firefighter, EMT, or another protected person providing emergency medical care suffered great bodily injury as a result of the fire,
  • More than one person suffered great bodily injury in the fire, or
  • The defendant used an incendiary device.

Additionally, if the arson was found to be “malicious,” a felony conviction may be considered a “strike” offense under California’s “Three Strikes” sentencing law. Convicted arson offender registration may also be required if you are convicted of certain arson charges in Orange County.

Felony Sentencing Enhancements for Arson

The state of California has a habitual offender law in effect called the “Three Strikes” sentencing law, which imposes harsh prison sentences on felony offenders with previous serious or violent felony convictions, known as “strike” offenses, on their record.

Under this law, a defendant with one prior “strike” conviction who is convicted of felony arson could face double the prison sentence otherwise required by law, and a defendant with two or more prior “strike” convictions who is convicted of felony arson could automatically face a prison sentence of 25 years to life.

There are certainly other factors that can result in enhanced penalties for an arson conviction. For instance, if you commit arson and accidentally kill someone while committing the crime, you could be charged with murder (Penal Code § 187 PC) under SB 1437, the felony murder rule.

This new Senate bill, signed into law in September 2018, applies to defendants who directly kill another person in the commission or attempted commission of a felony or who are “a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life.”


Fires by nature are destructive and they can be unpredictable if not well-controlled, which is why the crimes of arson and reckless burning are punished harshly in Orange County.

However, just because you have been charged with arson does not mean you are guilty of the crime. There are several defenses your attorney can raise in your case to shed doubt on your guilt and help you avoid a conviction.

For instance, the main difference between the crimes of Orange County arson and reckless burning is the defendant’s state of mind, and it is extremely difficult for a prosecutor to prove that your behavior meets the legal definition of malicious arson. In order to get a malicious arson conviction in Orange County, the prosecutor in your case will be required to establish beyond a reasonable doubt the following elements of the crime:

  • That you set fire to a building, forest land, or property, and
  • That you did so with willful and malicious intent.

If your attorney raises questions that create doubt and the prosecution is, therefore, unable to establish this required intent, you cannot be found guilty of the crime of arson. In such cases, you could get your arson charges reduced to reckless burning, which carries less severe penalties, or you may be able to get the criminal charges dismissed altogether.

Best Defense Strategies in Orange County Arson Cases

Arson is a serious crime in Orange County and law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges are tough on these types of violent crimes, especially if someone is injured or killed as a result of the fire, or if the fire causes extensive property damage.

However, fires causing devastating property damage, great bodily injury, or even death aren’t always the result of arson. Sometimes, these fires are started by mistake or they unexpectedly burn out of control, and if this is the case, arson charges may not be appropriate under PC § 451. No one deserves to be convicted of a crime they didn’t commit or one they committed by mistake, and the following are some common legal defenses your attorney may use to defend you against Orange County arson charges:

  • The fire was an accident
  • You were falsely accused
  • The evidence against you doesn’t warrant an arson charge
  • You are the victim of mistaken identity
  • The fire was not the result of arson


If you have been arrested for or charged with arson in Orange County, you do not have to face these charges alone, nor should you. Arson is considered a violent crime and a conviction carries significant criminal consequences that can last a lifetime. For this reason, it is imperative that you seek the help of a knowledgeable Orange County arson defense attorney when facing arson or reckless burning charges.

Hiring a criminal defense lawyer with experience defending arson charges can mean the difference between protecting your freedom and your future and suffering the consequences of a misdemeanor or felony arson conviction. In some cases, an arson arrest is the result of a misunderstanding or an accident, but it still requires immediate intervention.

Not only can our qualified arson defense lawyers at Seyb Law Group protect your rights and work to get your charges reduced or dismissed, but we can also help you avoid the social stigma of being labeled a convicted arson offender for the rest of your life. Contact our criminal defense law firm today to schedule your free initial consultation.


Defendants facing criminal charges for arson in Orange County have an uphill battle to fight, but an experienced criminal defense attorney can help protect you against the Orange County courts, which tend to prosecute arson crimes to the fullest extent of the law.

For more information about arson and reckless burning laws in Orange County, or to find out how best to defend yourself against arson, malicious arson, or aggravated arson charges, consult our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Seyb Law Group as soon as possible.

Our skilled arson defense lawyers have a clear understanding of Orange County arson and reckless burning laws and are intimately familiar with the Orange County criminal justice system, which means we are uniquely poised to help you build the strongest possible defense in your criminal case.

Let our attorneys put their extensive experience to work for you. Contact Seyb Law Group today for a free initial consultation.

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