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Under California Penal code 451, arson is defined as intentional damage or attempt to damage a real or personal property by fire. Our defense lawyer will fight a charge of arson based upon the fact that arson must involve willful or malicious burning or attempt to burn a house, a building, a car, an airplane, or someone’s personal property. Our arson criminal defense lawyers defend cases in Los Angeles county courts including Pasadena, Van Nuys, Long Beach, Glendale, East Los Angeles, Whittier, Inglewood, Compton, Valencia, CCB, Metro, West Covina, and other courts in California

The following California penal codes provide the underlying laws and punishments for the crime of arson or property. 451PC, 451.1, 451.5, 452, 452.1, 453, 454, 455, 456, 457, 457.1. California Penal Code 451 provides: A person is guilty of arson when he or she willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned or who aids, counsels, or procures the burning of, any structure, forest land, or property.

(a) Arson that causes great bodily injury is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for five, seven, or nine years.

(b) Arson that causes an inhabited structure or inhabited property to burn is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for three, five, or eight years.

(c) Arson of a structure or forest land is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years.

(d) Arson of property is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two, or three years. For purposes of this paragraph, arson of property does not include one burning or causing to be burned his or her own personal property unless there is an intent to defraud or there is injury to another person or another person’s structure, forest land, or property.

(e) In the case of any person convicted of violating this section while confined in a state prison, prison road camp, prison forestry camp, or other prison camp or prison farm, or while confined in a county jail while serving a term of imprisonment for a felony or misdemeanor conviction, any sentence imposed shall be consecutive to the sentence for which the person was then confined.


The most serious form of arson is charged per California Penal Code 451(a) when arson causes serious bodily injury to someone. The punishment could be 5, 7, or 9 years in state prison and you will get a strike on your record. And because this is a strike, you would only receive 15% good time work time credit in state prison.

Where no serious injury is caused but an inhabited structure is partially or completely burned, the felony will be charged per California PC 451(b). The sentence range will be 3, 5, or 8 years and it will be a strike with 15% custody credits.

If arson is committed without the specific intent to burn or set fire on a building or structure, the district attorney may choose to file a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge depending on the circumstances of the case and the criminal background of the perpetrator. This is done per PC 452(a) which makes it unlawful to cause fire that results in great bodily injury (GBI).

PC 452(a) is a wobbler, because it could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.  As a misdemeanor, the maximum penalty would be one year in a County Jail. As a felony offense, the sentence could be 2, 4, or 6 years in State Prison. Since a conviction per PC 452(a) avoids a strike, you would get 50% credit if you are sentenced to state prison.

PC 452(b) is also a wobbler and is usually applicable when there is unintentional but possibly reckless burning of an inhabited structure but no serious injury to a victim is caused. The potential sentence could be 2, 3, or 4 years in State Prison with the possibility of getting 50% credit.


Several defenses are available to a crime of arson charges in California courts:

Identification issues: Police have the wrong person who has nothing to do with the alleged arson.

The defendant did not intend to burn or destroy anything and the act was accidental.

The prosecution could not prove arson because one of the elements of arson is missing under California Penal Code Section 451, 452 or other penal codes.

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Criminal prosecution can affect your health, freedom, employment, and social life. You need help and you need the best criminal defense you can get. At the Law Offices of Tony M. Seyfi, with the state of the art computerized legal research tools and forensic techniques, we will focus on identifying the defenses you may have and will develop numerous challenges to any crime possible.

Our goal is victory for our clients and to keep them from going to jail, and we are confident of our defense strategies. If you would like to discuss your case, call us today for a FREE CONSULTATION and case analysis.

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