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Charlotte NC Attorneys at Law
Rosensteel Fleishman

Burning Crimes

Burning crimes are serious crimes which are punished at the felony level. A person convicted of a burning crime can receive months or years in prison as a result. If you have been charged with a burning crime, an experienced defense attorney can help you navigate the legal requirements and determine how the law applies to the facts of your case. Call Mr. Rosensteel as soon as possible so that he can begin examining your case and determine the best course of action for you.

The crime of arson is a common law crime which requires that a person maliciously burn the dwelling house of another. North Carolina statute has created crimes for the burning of certain buildings and structures which are not included in this definition of arson. These crimes include fraudulently setting fire to one’s own dwelling house, as well as the burning of structures other than dwelling houses.

 

Fraudulently Setting Fire to Dwelling Houses

Arson requires that a person burn the dwelling house of another. But this does not mean that people can go around burning their own dwelling houses without consequence. Instead of falling under the crime of arson, when a person burns his own dwelling house, he commits fraudulently setting fire to dwelling houses. To show that a person fraudulently set fire to a dwelling house, the following elements must be proven:

  • the defendant intentionally set fire to, burned or caused the burning of a structure.
  • this structure was used as a dwelling house and occupied by the defendant or designed or intended for use as a dwelling house and owned by the defendant.
  • the defendant did so wantonly and willfully, that is, intentionally and without justification or excuse, with the knowledge or reasonable grounds to believe his act would endanger the rights or safety of others or for the fraudulent purpose of obtaining something of value from another by means of an intentional misrepresentation of the truth of the burning.

 

If a person is found guilty of fraudulently setting fire to a dwelling house, he is guilty of a Class H felony. A person who commits a Class H felony must be sentenced to punishment between four and 25 months, depending on prior convictions. A person with no prior convictions may receive community or intermediate punishment, such as probation. However, any person who commits a Class H may receive active jail time as punishment.

A dwelling house is defined as a house that is inhabited, meaning that someone lives there. Inhabitation can be permanent, temporary or seasonal and does not require actual occupation. However, if the house is under construction and no one has moved in yet, between tenants or abandoned, it is not inhabited and therefore not a dwelling house. Under North Carolina law, a dwelling house includes mobile homes, manufactured-type houses and recreational trailers.

A person does not have to own the house for that house to be his dwelling house. For example, a tenant would commit fraudulently setting fire to a dwelling house, not arson, when he burns a dwelling house of which he is the sole inhabitant.

For the purposes of burning crimes, a dwelling house includes outbuildings within the curtilage of the dwelling house. The curtilage is the grounds around the dwelling house which is commonly used with the dwelling house, such as a house’s yard. The curtilage can be enclosed or unenclosed.

The crime of fraudulently setting fire to a dwelling house includes both the act of burning the dwelling house and the act setting fire to the dwelling house. To prove the element of burning, a partial burning or even the slightest charring is sufficient evidence. However, North Carolina courts have held that a “mere discoloration” is not sufficient evidence of a burning. A “burning” of a dwelling house is distinct from “setting fire to” a dwelling house, and the two terms have different meanings. Setting fire to a dwelling house means causing fire to come into contact with the property, even if the property is not actually burned, and does include circumstances when the property is “merely scorched” or “discolored by heat.”

A person does not have to actually burn or set fire to his dwelling house to violate the fraudulently setting fire to a dwelling house statute. The statute also makes it a crime for a person to “aid, counsel or procure” the burning of his dwelling house.

 

Other Burnings

North Carolina statute also creates distinct crimes for the burning of or setting fire to certain other buildings. Like the fraudulently setting fire to a dwelling house statute, these statutes do not require a person to actually burn or set fire to the structure and make it a crime for a person to “aid, counsel or procure” the burning of these structures.

The burnings of or setting fire to State buildings, schools, uninhabited houses, offices, or warehouses are punishable as a Class F felony. A person who commits a Class F felony must be sentenced to punishment between 10 and 41 months, depending on prior convictions. A person with no prior convictions may receive intermediate punishment, but any person convicted of a Class F felony may receive active jail time.

The burning of or setting fire to churches is punishable as a Class E felony. A person with no prior convictions who is found guilty of a Class E felony receives a sentence between 15 and 31 months of imprisonment. However, prior convictions can increase the sentence to up to 63 months. A person with no prior convictions may receive intermediate punishment, but any person convicted of a Class E felony may receive active jail time.

The burning of or setting fire to a building or structure in process of construction or the burning of or setting fire to boats is punishable as a Class H felony. A person who commits a Class H felony must be sentenced to punishment between four and 25 months, depending on prior convictions. A person with no prior convictions may receive community or intermediate punishment, such as probation. However, any person who commits a Class H may receive active jail time as punishment.

If you have been charged with a burning crime, contact an attorney at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC (704) 714-1450, to discuss your options.