Arson charges can be extremely serious for juveniles in Texas. This is so even if the young person starting the fire is a poor fire starter and cannot get the fire going to his or her satisfaction. So, when does lighting a fire rise to the level of a crime?
Texas criminal code, Section 28.02 provides much of the answer.
Starting fire with intent to damage property
One kind of action, that of starting a fire, may constitute a crime of arson if a person starts a fire with intent to cause damage to any of the following:
- A structure on open-space property
- A fence on open-space property
- Vegetation on open-space property
- A vehicle, dwelling or building under certain situations
The relevance of fire starter’s knowledge
The certain situations noted above with regard to vehicles, dwellings or buildings include when the person starting the fire has knowledge of the following:
- The object under fire is located in a city or town (with exception)
- The object is the subject of an insurance policy against such damage
- The object has a mortgage attached to it or is otherwise security for another transaction
- The object is sitting on the someone else’s property
- The object contains within it, someone else’s property
The relevance of being reckless
Likewise, if the person seeking to set a car, habitation or other building on fire is reckless with regard to whether the fire will damage someone else’s property or whether it will endanger a person’s life, the violation has occurred. This is regardless of the above list of knowledge sets or lack thereof.
Thus, the fire starter need not know he or she will be damaging life or property of another, but if he is reckless and it happens anyway, that person may be accountable.
The relevance of drug manufacturing
In addition to the above, it may be a flat-out violation of the arson section if the young person is manufacturing a controlled substance and recklessly starts a fire or explosion that damages a dwelling, vehicle or building.
Also, a teen need not intend to damage property, necessarily. Rather, if the fire starter merely intends to start the fire and in that process, recklessly damages someone else’s building or hurts or kills someone, his lack of intent to damage will not be a defense.
There are, however, certain statutory defenses that a juvenile charged with arson will want to investigate. If a teen is charged with arson, in addition to those defenses, consideration should also be made of remaining in the juvenile court system.