Arson is generally understood throughout the Commonwealth as a property crime that occurs when someone sets fire to a dwelling or building. However, it is also important to know that if you caused a dwelling or building to be burned, you can personally be charged with arson.
Arson is a felony that is punishable depending on several factors. Most importantly, the nature of the burned structure factors heavily into the level of punishment administered to those convicted of arson. For example, the burning of a place of business is typically treated less severely than a building used as a residence.
Typically, a person convicted of arson against a business can be sentenced to up to 10 years in a state prison. Whereas, the same crime against a residence, hospital or dormitory might result in a defendant facing a 20-year prison sentence along with a $10,000 fine.
Arguably, the hardest element of the crime of arson to prove is that a defendant "willfully and maliciously" set fire to the building or caused it to be burned. If you are currently facing arson charges, you should know that the prosecution often faces difficulty when attempting to establish your state of mind at the time that the crime allegedly occurred. For example, it may be extremely difficult for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person using fireworks illegally had the intent to burn down his or her neighbor's house.
In cases that are harder to prove your intent, prosecutors may be willing to negotiate a plea settlement agreement in exchange for a reduction in the charges against you. Potentially, this could mean that a defendant might plead guilty to a single misdemeanor crime rather than going to trial on several felony charges and risking more severe penalties.
Your Massachusetts criminal defense attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and determine the best overall long-term strategy for your arson defense.
Source: The Commonwealth of Massachusetts- Crimes, punishments and proceedings in criminal cases, "Section 1. Dwelling houses; burning or aiding in burning" accessed Feb. 05, 2015