Arson and Malicious Burning

Arson is a serious crime in Maryland that is prosecuted very aggressively by prosecutors. At Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White our criminal trial team handles dozens of these matters annually. These cases typically involve the burning of a structure or an automobile. More often than not, police arson investigators focus on the owner of the property who they view to have a substantial financial motive to commit the crime, namely insurance proceeds. It is imperative for a person who is contacted by the police in an arson investigation to speak to a criminal defense attorney prior to speaking to the police investigators. Arson investigations are scientifically complex and the investigators are highly educated and trained. Many people in these investigations incriminate themselves in their initial interviews with the police without even realizing that this is what they are doing.

It also is important to monitor the investigation by the police in real time. In many of these cases it is important to get defense experts involved before evidence is contaminated or destroyed by police investigators. In other cases it may be necessary to identify and track down alibi witnesses or to put together a time line of the client’s activities on the offense date. Many arson investigations take substantial time and very often weeks or months pass between the incident date and the date a person is formally charged. It is always far more difficult to identify witnesses and specify a time line months later than it is if done immediately.

Finally, it is important to have a defense team that is experienced in these matters from the earliest possible date because in many instances it is possible to prevent charges from being filed in the first place by presenting alibi evidence or other evidence of actual innocence to the investigators and/or the prosecutors.

Under Maryland law there are four statutes that deal with the burning of real and personal property. The term Arson technically only applies to the burning of real property such as dwellings and structures. Both sections make the conduct a felony and the only difference in the elements is whether or not the structure is occupied. The burning of private property or personal property such as automobiles is known as Malicious Burning under Maryland Law and is likewise split up into two sections dealing with the value of the property. Essentially, if the property is valued at more than $1,000 it is a felony; if it is under $1,000 it is a misdemeanor although it still carries a stiff maximum penalty of 5 years in prison.

Below are the actual statutes which are laid out in Subtitle 6 of the Maryland Criminal Law. If you or a family member are charged with, or being investigated for, one of these crimes, contact our office for a free consultation.

6-102: Arson in the first degree (a) Prohibited. — A person may not willfully and maliciously set fire to or burn: (1) a dwelling; or (2) a structure in or on which an individual who is not a participant is present.(b) Penalty. — A person who violates this section is guilty of the felony of arson in the first degree and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 30 years or a fine not exceeding $ 50,000 or both.(c) Prohibited defense. — It is not a defense to a prosecution under this section that the person owns the property. §6-103. Arson in the second degree (a) Prohibited. -- A person may not willfully and maliciously set fire to or burn a structure that belongs to the person or to another.(b) Penalty. — A person who violates this section is guilty of the felony of arson in the second degree and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 20 years or a fine not exceeding $ 30,000 or both.(c) Prohibited defense. — It is not a defense to a prosecution under this section that the person owns the property.

§6-104. Malicious burning of personal property in the first degree (a) Scope of section. — This section applies to a violation involving property damage of $ 1,000 or more. (b) Prohibited. — A person may not willfully and maliciously set fire to or burn the personal property of another.(c) Penalty. — A person who violates this section is guilty of the felony of malicious burning in the first degree and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding $ 5,000 or both.

§6-105. Malicious burning of personal property in the second degree (a) Scope of section. — This section applies to a violation involving property damage of less than $ 1,000. (b) Prohibited. — A person may not willfully and maliciously set fire to or burn the personal property of another.(c) Penalty. — A person who violates this section is guilty of the misdemeanor of malicious burning in the second degree and on conviction is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 18 months or a fine not exceeding $ 500 or both.