Exclusively Practicing Criminal Defense for
Two Decades
David Olshansky

Arson and Aggravated Arson

Arson is a serious offense and the Illinois state has tough legislation dealing with charges of arson and aggravated arson. Arson covers both the acts of setting fire to a building or causing an explosion that damages or sets the building on fire.

All matters relating to buildings that catch fire or get damaged in an explosion are investigated by the Illinois State Fire Marshall. The authorities conduct a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the fire. They are authorized to collect evidence on how the fire started, interview witnesses, make arrests and works with the state attorneys to apprehend the suspects to be tried in court.

If you have been charged with an arson crime, you will need an experienced Chicago arson attorney to defend you.

Arson Investigations

Not every building that catches fire or gets damaged results in a state investigation. Most fires start due to negligence or accidents and handled by local fire authorities. In cases where the local authorities cannot figure out the cause of the fire or there are other suspicious circumstances, the state fire marshal is called in to determine the cause of the fire.

Arson investigations may also be called in if there is a death or serious injury of a person due to the fire, including the firemen or a police officer.

Fires in buildings that have a high dollar value, owned by the state or the federal government are also investigated. Damage to school property and places of worship is also likely to be investigated.

Finally, arsons for properties that are insured may also get an investigation request by the insuring agency.

State Legislation

The legislation for arson is covered under Chapter 38, article 20. The section covers arson, residential arson, and place of worship arson.

The section describes that a person commits arson when he or she knowingly damages any real or personal property worth more than $150 of another person without his or her consent either by means of explosives or fire.

A person also commits arson when he or she destroys personal property worth more than $150 in order to defraud an insurer.

Residential arson is committed when a person knowingly damages any building or structure that is the dwelling place of another person.

Place of worship arson is committed when a person knowingly damages a place of worship.

Punishment for Arson

Arson can be charged as a Class 2 felony. Residential or place of worship arson can be charged as a Class 1 felony.

A Class 2 felony is punishable by a prison sentence of 3 to 7 years while a Class 1 felony carries a prison sentence of 4 to 15 years.

In addition to prison time, the defendant may also be required to compensate the aggrieved party for loss of property or value. Our Chicago arson lawyers are experienced with these types of cases, and provide exceptional defense.

Aggravated Arson

Aggravated arson is a more serious subcategory of arson. It is a Class X felony and an arson charge can be tried as an aggravated arson when any one of the following conditions is met.

  • When a person committing an act of arson has reasonable knowledge that one or more persons are present on the property or in an adjacent building.
  • When a person suffers great bodily harm, permanent disability or disfigurement as a result of the fire or explosion.
  • When a fireman, policeman or another correctional officer present at the scene, acting in their line of duty, gets injured due to the fire or explosion.
Recent Arson Charges and Court Cases

Recently, the Sheriff’s office in Fayette County charged a man, Kern 19, with one count of Class 1 arson and Class 3 burglary in connection with a burglary that took place on Jan 21st. The man is already being held in Buchanan County Jail on an unrelated charge of taking a car from a relative without their permission.

While the burglary in the home itself was of little value, there was damage to the property that caused a small fire and smoke that was seen by one of the co-residents at the property. The witness spotted a vehicle leaving the home and couldn’t see the person on the driving seat. The witness saw the same car later during the day and approached the man who drove off in a hurry.

If it is established in the court that Kern was responsible for causing damage to the property, they could face a minimum sentence of 4 years in prison.

In another case, a man named William Amor who was charged and convicted for arson in 1995 was acquitted in February after a retrial. The man from Naperville had spent more than two decades in prison for conviction of arson and setting fire to a property that resulted in the death of his mother-in-law, Marianne Miceli.

Due to advances in fire science, the judge found the previous conviction to be “fatally compromised”. A prosecution expert had testified in 1995 that the fire that killed Marianne was set with the help of an open flame on the chair cloth in the living room.

The judge found this testimony highly unlikely to explain the timeline of events given that Amor and his wife had left the Condo 20 minutes before Marianne called 911 to report the blaze.

Amor had previously confessed to setting the fire during a lengthy police interrogation during which detectives served him with divorce papers from his wife. Amor’s attorney argued that the confession was coerced from the man who was put under duress by the investigators.

During the retrial, the state prosecution opted to retry Amor. The State’s attorney admitted that advancements in fire science made the original case of prosecution weak. But they believed that the supporting evidence still showed a guilty verdict.

Amor stated that he had always been hopeful that the system would do the right thing. He felt that it took 22 years for them to get there.

Possible Legal Defenses

The charge of arson is complicated and difficult to prove from the point of prosecution. Things become more complicated if arson leads to bodily injury or death of a person and the charge gets trumped up to aggravated arson, which is a Class X felony.

The options available to a defendant are based on the strength of the prosecution’s case. A Class 2 felony carries a minimum prison term of 4 years. With a plea bargain, a good defense team may be able to get this lowered to 1 or 2 years, with or without parole.

Contact Chicago criminal defense lawyers at the Law Office of David S. Olshanksy for immediate assistance if you have been charged with an arson crime. We can be reached at 312-902-3344 or online here.