Malicious Burning of Property
A person who burns down another person’s home is guilty of arson. There is another Massachusetts statute that addresses the burning of all other items. A defendant is guilty of malicious burning of property if: he either individually or with the help of others, willfully and maliciously sets fire to, burns, or causes to be burned the property belonging to another person that had a value of more than $25. The property does not need to be completely destroyed. An injury to the property is sufficient for a conviction.
- Willful is defined as an intentional act (rather than an accident).
- An act is malicious if it is the product of cruelty, revenge, or hostility.
The statute is surprisingly specific concerning the types of property that qualify. Criminal liability attaches to the burning of:
- Lumber (including a parcel or pile of boards, wood, or timber);
- Fences or gates;
- Stacks of hay, grain, or vegetables;
- Standing trees, grass, grain, or other products of the soil; or
- Any other personal property.
Maliciously burning the personal property of another person is a felony and is punishable by a state prison sentence.Common defenses and defense strategies
Malicious burning of property cases can be defended in a variety of ways.
Identification – Unlike other crimes, such as assault and battery, individuals who are accused of setting fires can often do so without being seen. The Commonwealth bears the burden of proving the identity of the firestarter beyond a reasonable doubt. Intentional fires are often set during the nighttime and people who intentionally start fires typically take protective measures to conceal their identities. For all of these reasons, it is often difficult for the prosecutor to prove the identity of the person who started the fire. Keep in mind, however, that the Commonwealth can always prove a case based entirely on circumstantial evidence. The Appeals Court recently upheld a defendant’s conviction for setting the victim’s truck on fire when the evidence established that: the defendant learned the victim had recently assaulted his sister; the defendant’s cell phone tracker proved he was in the vicinity of the crime scene; and a credit card receipt proved the defendant bought a small amount of gasoline less than an hour before the victim's truck was torched.
Bias – Because malice is an element of the crime, the Commonwealth will necessarily be arguing there is bad blood between the defendant and the victim. While this bad blood might establish the defendant’s motive to commit the crime, it will also suggest the victim has a motive to fabricate charges against the defendant. The victim will likely be required to testify at the defendant’s trial, and Attorney Spring will be permitted to cross-examine the victim about his or her motive to lie.
Accident – The Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally burned the victim’s property. If the fire resulted from the defendant’s accidental conduct (or even negligent or reckless conduct), the Commonwealth will be unable to prove its case.
Attorney Spring has been litigating criminal cases for nearly two decades. If you are being accused of committing a crime, contact him immediately to schedule a free consultation.