27-year-old man John Doe (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) is, by all accounts, a non-violent sort. Sure, his friends say, he’s political, he fights for animal rights and is a strict vegan. Yet, he has strangely been arrested in conjunction with several damaging fires set in the Alameda area. The other person arrested for this crime (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused), a homeless fellow who seems to have no connection whatsoever to John Doe. Alameda residents, especially those who have attended the open mic nights that guitar player John Doe hosts, are shocked and angry at his arrest. As for the fires themselves, one was set in a trash bin, others were more serious, including a large home being set ablaze and 5 businesses in another area of Alameda. It is estimated that $3 million in damages resulted.
In California, a person is charged with arson (CA Penal Code 450-452) when they purposefully, and with malice, set fire to a structure, another person’s property, or a forest. You could also be charged with California arson if you ‘recklessly’ set fire to any of the aforementioned things (referred to as ‘reckless arson’). If you are convicted of ‘reckless arson,’ you will only be charged with a misdemeanor offense. On the other hand, if you have set fire to a building, to a forest, or have caused serious injury to another human being, then arson becomes a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to the prosecuting attorney to determine whether they will treat it as a misdemeanor or as a felony. A ‘malicious arson’ conviction (always a felony) will end in anywhere from 16 months to 7 years in prison, depending on what kind of structure or forest has been burned. It may also cost you a $10,000 fine. “Reckless arson,’ contrariwise, may result in a longer sentence and heavier fines.