What is arson? In Michigan, arson is defined as when someone willfully and/or maliciously sets fire to personal property. For example: if you find out your boyfriend cheated on you and set fire to his car to get revenge, you have just committed arson because your actions were willful and malicious. 

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If you were doing a load of laundry without cleaning the lint filter and a fire started as a result, that is not arson because you did not willfully or maliciously set the fire.

However, you can be charged with arson even if you set fire to your own property. People will sometimes do this in an attempt to collect insurance money. If that is the case, you may be charged with arson of insured property. Doing so is a felony. 

Depending on the property set aflame, a person can serve up to life in prison, up to 20 years in prison, or up to 10 years in prison. In lieu of or in addition to prison, a person can be fined no more than $20,000 or three times the value of the property, whichever is greater.

There are five degrees of arson which are listed below:

What is first-degree arson?

 A person commits first-degree arson if he/she willfully or maliciously sets fire to:

  • a multi-unit building where at least one unit is a dwelling,
  • property and someone is physically hurt as a result, and/or 
  • a mine.

What is second-degree arson?

A person commits second-degree arson if he/she willfully or maliciously sets fire to a dwelling or its contents.

What is third-degree arson?

A person commits third-degree arson if he/she willfully or maliciously sets fire to:

  • a structure or building or its contents,
  • personal property that has a value of $20,000 or more, and/or
  • personal property that has a value of $1,000 or more if the person has any prior convictions for arson.

Fire

What is fourth-degree arson?

A person commits fourth-degree arson if he/she willfully and maliciously sets fire to:

  • personal property that has a value of $1,000 or more but less than $20,000, and/or
  • personal property that has a value of $200 or more if the person has any prior convictions for arson.

A person also commits fourth-degree arson if he/she willfully or negligently sets fire to a woods, prairie, or someone’s grounds or allows fire to spread from their own woods, prairie, or grounds to another person’s property.

What is fifth-degree arson? 

A person commits fifth-degree arson if he/she intentionally sets fire to:

  • personal property value that has a value of $1,000 or less. An individual can also be charged for fifth-degree arson if the person has any prior convictions for arson.

What are the penalties for arson?

The penalties are most severe for first-degree arson and least severe for fifth-degree arson. Below are the penalties for each charge:

First-degree arson

First-degree arson is a felony punishable by:

  • any number of years up to life in prison, and/or
  • fine of no more than $20,000.00 or three times the value of the property damaged or destroyed, whichever is greater.

Second-degree arson

Second-degree arson is a felony punishable by:

  • any number of years up to 20 years in prison, and/or
  • fine of no more than $20,000.00 or three times the value of the property damaged or destroyed, whichever is greater.

Third-degree arson

Third-degree arson is a felony punishable by:

  • no more than 10 years in prison, and/or
  • fine of no more than $20,000.00 or three times the value of the property damaged or destroyed, whichever is greater.

Fourth-degree arson

Prison

Fourth-degree arson is a felony punishable by:

  • no more than 5 years in prison, and/or
  • fine of no more than $10,000 or three times the value of the property damages or destroyed, whichever is greater.

Fifth-degree arson

Fifth-degree arson is a misdemeanor punishable by:

  • no more than 1 year in prison, and/or
  • fine of no more than $2,000 or three times the value of the property damaged or destroyed, whichever is greater.

Quick recap

As you can see from the penalties of arson, it is a crime that the state of Michigan takes very seriously. It is vital that you hire a lawyer who is well-versed in arson law.