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When does arson become a felony in New Jersey?

On Behalf of | Apr 1, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

The severity of an arson charge in New Jersey depends on various factors, including the intent behind the act, the type of property damaged and whether the fire endangered lives.

Understanding when arson becomes a felony in New Jersey is important when building a defense case, as felony charges carry heavier penalties compared to misdemeanors.

Intent and recklessness

New Jersey classifies arson as a felony if the court finds the individual acted with a specific intent to cause damage or harm. This includes setting fires deliberately to destroy property or endanger others. In such instances, this charge carries the label of aggravated arson.

The law also considers recklessness, which is acting with disregard for the likely consequences of setting a fire, as grounds for felony charges. This charge can apply not only to buildings but also to land and vehicles.

Endangering lives

Arson becomes a felony when the act poses a direct threat to human life. Setting fire to buildings, especially occupied structures, or any act of unlawfully starting a fire that results in injury, may significantly increase the severity of the charge.

Property type and damage

The type of property involved can also influence the charge’s severity. Critical infrastructure, such as public buildings, health care facilities or places of worship, may result in felony charges due to the higher value and community impact of these properties. Courts may also take the extent of the damage done by the fire into consideration.

In New Jersey, arson charges can escalate under certain circumstances regarding intent, endangerment and property damage. Individuals could face serious arson charges if a small fire simply got out of hand accidentally, even on that person’s own property. Gathering evidence to prove there was no intent to cause damage or harm is the first step in building a solid defense against escalated charges.