The traditional Virginia arson charge prohibits the intentional burning of a dwelling. It does not matter if the burning or destruction was to the dwelling of another or the offender.
The most common, and most serious, Virginia arson charge is found in Va. Code §18.2-77. This statute applies to burning a dwelling house.
§18.2-77 prohibits the malicious burning or destruction by fire or explosive device of a dwelling house. Violation of this statute is punished by 5 years to life in prison. The offender can also be fined up to $100,000. The fine will never be in lieu of prison, but may be added to the prison sentence. All other arson charges have a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine up to $100,000.
A number of other acts can be charged as arson in Virginia. These are outlined on the “Other Virginia Arson Charges” section of this page, below.
Proof of Arson
Virginia law presumes that the cause of a fire was an accident. This makes the burden very high for the Commonwealth to prove a Virginia arson charge.
To convict on a Virginia arson charge, the Commonwealth must prove a number of factors. It must prove:
- an incendiary act (burning)
- the accused is the person who caused the incendiary act, and
- criminal intent
Additionally, this statute only applies to dwelling places. The commonwealth must prove that the place burned or destroyed was a dwelling to convict on this Virginia arson charge.
Proof of an incendiary act includes use of accelerants, multiple points of origin of the fire, or lack of accidental causes.
The Commonwealth must prove some burning or some destruction A slight burning is enough to convict under §18.2-77.
The Accused Committed the Incendiary Act
The Commonwealth can prove this Virginia arson charge with circumstantial evidence. Threats, incriminating statements, or being found with the accelerants can all be used as proof.
The Commonwealth must prove state of mind to convict on a Virginia arson charge. The state of mind for arson is “malice.” Malice is an intentional act. It can also include reckless behavior. If the accused knows that his conduct “creates the grave risk that a dwelling house will be burned, he can be convicted under this statute.
The Commonwealth must prove that the accused burned or destroyed a dwelling place. In Virginia, a dwelling place is a place of residence. It remains a dwelling place even if its occupants left temporarily. This means that one can be convicted of arson even if no one is in the dwelling place.
A dwelling place is typically a home. However, the statute allows for a number of other places to be dwelling places. The dwelling must be inhabited at the time of the arson for this statute to apply.
Punishment for this Virginia arson charge depends on whether the dwelling was occupied at the time of the alleged arson. If it was occupied, this Virginia arson charge is punished by 5 years-life in prison, in addition to a fine of up to $100,000.
If the dwelling was unoccupied, the Virginia arson charge is a Class 4 felony. This is punished by 2-10 years in prison, a fine up to $100,000, or both.
Aid or Assist an Arson
§18.2-77 (ii) criminalizes aiding or assisting in an arson. Under §18.2-77, anyone who “aids, counsels or procures the burning or destruction of any dwelling house or manufactured home…” is guilty of arson. He is considered a principle in the first degree. This means that he can be punished to the same extent as the actual arsonist. The aider faces 5 years-life in prison and a fine up to $100,000. The offender can be convicted even if he did not actually start the fire.
Other Virginia Arson Statutes
In addition to the main arson statute involving a dwelling place, there are a number of other Virginia arson charges. These include:
§18.2-79, the malicious burning or destruction of a meeting house. If anyone is in the building during the arson, this Virginia arson charge is a Class 3 felony. It is punished by 5-20 years in prison, a fine up to $100,000, or both. If no one was present, it is a Class 4 felony. It is punished by 2-10 years in prison, a fine up to $100,000, or both. For more information on this arson charge, click here.
§18.2-80 discusses malicious burning or destruction of any structure not covered in any of the other arson statutes. If someone is present during the arson, this Virginia arson charge is a Class 3 felony. It is punished by 5-20 years in prison, a fine up to $100,000, or both. If no one was present, it is a Class 4 felony. It is punished by 2-10 years in prison, a fine up to $100,000, or both. For more information on this charge, click here.
§18.2-81 discusses arson charges related to personal property. If the property destroyed was valued at more than $200, it is a Class 4 felony. If less than $200, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor. For more information on this Virginia arson charge, click here.
§18.2-82 applies to an arson committed as a result of the offender’s attempt to commit a felony. This Virginia arson charge is a Class 4 felony. It is punished by 2-10 years in prison and a fine up to $100,000. More information on this Virginia arson charge can be found here.
§18.2-86 prohibits maliciously setting fire to anything capable of spreading fire on land. This Virginia arson charge is a Class 6 felony. It is punished by 1-5 years in prison. Alternatively, it can be punished by 12 months in jail and a fine up to $2500. Click here for more information on this Virginia arson charge
§18.2-87 prohibits, in addition to maliciously setting fire to anything capable of spreading fire on land, allowing that fire to escape the land of another. This Virginia arson charge is a Class 1 misdemeanor. It is punished by up to 12 months in jail, a fine up to $2500, or both. For more information on this Virginia arson charge click here.
§18.2-88 prohibits carelessly damaging property by fire. This Virginia arson charge is a Class 4 misdemeanor. The maximum punishment for this charge is a fine of $250.
In addition to offenses involving burning or destruction by explosive device, there are a number of other related offenses in Virginia. They include bombing and bomb-making crimes, such as:
§18.2-83 (bomb threats)
§18.2-85 (possession of bomb and firebomb making materials)
§18.1-87.1 (setting off chemical bombs in public buildings)
Virginia Criminal Lawyer
It is important to contact an experienced Virginia criminal lawyer as soon as possible to discuss a Virginia arson charge. These charges are extremely serious and carry harsh penalties.