Aggravated Arson Charges

Arson consists of purposely setting fire to another person’s property with malicious intent or to your own property, but for fraudulent purposes. Many people think arson only applies to buildings, but empty lots, cars, boats and other personal property can be involved in arson as well. When the alleged arson puts another person’s life at risk, you may face aggravated arson charges.

Aggravated arson is a serious crime, and as such it carries severe penalties. If convicted, you may end up spending the rest of your life behind bars. Fortunately, you may be able to avoid these penalties if you call a Chicago property crimes attorney with considerable experience in similar cases.

At O’Meara Law, we will thoroughly review every aspect of your case to determine which defense strategy will give you the best outcome. If you want a dedicated advocate by your side at every step of the criminal justice process, call us today at 312-909-0706 for a free and confidential consultation.

How Does Illinois Law Define Aggravated Arson?

Aggravated arson is an arson involving an aggravating factor. Under Illinois law, an arson occurs when you:

  • Destroy a building or other property by fire or explosion, and
  • The building or property belongs to someone else, and you had malicious intent, or
  • The building or property belonged to you, and you had fraudulent intent

A prosecutor may be able to show you had malicious intent if there is evidence that you planned the fire in advance, or that you had a troubled history with the owner of the property that you allegedly destroyed.

Alternatively, the prosecutor may be charging you because there is evidence that you destroyed your own property for fraudulent reasons. Usually, this occurs when a person destroys their property in the hopes of collecting an insurance payment. If the prosecution believes you destroyed your own property with fraudulent intent, they will need to prove all of the following facts:

  • You actually or intended to make a misrepresentation to another party (such as your insurance company) about the fire
  • You hoped for, or the other party actually did believe and rely on your misrepresentation
  • You intended to or actually profited from the misrepresentation

According to 720 ILCS 5/20-1.1, for your arson to be aggravated, it must have involved one of the following aggravating factors:

  • You knew or reasonably should have known that one or more people were present in the building, structure, or vehicle that you allegedly burned, or
  • Another person was gravely injured, disfigured, or disabled by the fire or explosion, or
  • A fireman, police officer, or corrections officer acting in the line of duty was injured as a result of the fire or explosion

Penalties for Aggravated Arson

Aggravated arson is considered a violent crime due to the possibility of causing serious injury or death to another person. If the arson contributes to someone’s death, you may be charged with murder – the most serious felony charge you can face.

In Illinois, aggravated arson is listed as a Class X felony, the most serious class of crime besides murder. The mandatory minimum prison sentence you will receive is between six and 30 years. If you get convicted of arson, the judge may sentence you to pay restitution to the victim, on top of fines reaching up to $25,000.

The consequences of an aggravated arson charge don’t stop here. In addition to the criminal penalties mentioned above, you will also have to cope with all or some of these collateral consequences:

  • Limited employment opportunities because of the felony on your permanent criminal record
  • Inability to continue your education
  • Ineligibility for many professional licenses
  • Disqualified from receiving certain types of welfare or housing assistance
  • Revoked right to own firearms
  • For immigrants, likely deportation

How O’Meara Law Can Help

If you’ve been charged with aggravated arson, there are several defenses that may be available to you.

  • Mistaken Identity – To obtain your conviction for aggravated arson, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were the individual who started the fire. If your lawyer can show there is a doubt as to the identity of the perpetrator, then the jury will be instructed to acquit you. Your identity as the perpetrator may be an issue in cases where the prosecution’s evidence consists of poor quality video footage or the testimony of unreliable witnesses.
  • Lack of Intent – Another line of defense is proving that there is a reasonable doubt as to your malicious or fraudulent intent. Unless you confessed to the crime under constitutionally permissible police questioning, it will be difficult for the prosecution to demonstrate your intent. They will rely on circumstantial evidence, testimony from character witnesses, and your patterns of behavior – all of which your lawyer might reinterpret or justify.

No matter how helpless you think your case might be, do not plead guilty until speaking with an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney. If there is any room for doubt in your case, an acquittal is a real possibility. Michael O’Meara is a former prosecutor with over two decades of courtroom experience.

If you want to give your case the best chances of success, call O’Meara law today at 312-909-0706 and we’ll give a confidential consultation at no cost.