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What Are the Elements of Arson in Tennessee?

Most of us understand that “arson” refers to a fire that did not start accidentally. In legal terms, the criminal offense of arson is a bit more complex than that simple definition. More importantly, if you have been charged with the crime of arson, you face serious consequences, including a lengthy term of imprisonment, if convicted.  A Murfreesboro criminal attorney at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby explains what the State must prove to convict you of arson and what punishment you face if convicted.criminal lawyer

Tennessee Law

In the State of Tennessee, the criminal offense of arson is governed by Tennessee Code §39-14-301 which states, in pertinent part, as follows:

  • A person commits an offense who knowingly damages any structure by means of a fire or explosion:
    • Without the consent of all persons who have a possessory, proprietary, or security interest therein OR
    • With intent to destroy or damage any structure to collect insurance for the damage or destruction or for any unlawful purpose.

For the prosecution to convict you of arson under the above-referenced statute, the prosecution must prove each and every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of arson, those elements are:

  1. Knowingly damaged
  2. A structure
  3. By means of fire or explosion
  4. Without consent OR with consent but for an unlawful purpose

Tennessee Code §39-14-303  establishes the elements of the related offense of “Setting fire to personal property or land.” The elements necessary for a conviction for setting fire to personal property or land are the same as for arson except that the second element replaces “a structure” with “any personal property, land, or other property except buildings and structures covered under § 39-14-301.”

Like many criminal offenses, the offense of arson can be charged as a higher-level crime under certain circumstances. In Tennessee, Tennessee Code §39-14-302 governs the more serious offense of aggravated arson. Aggravated arson is defined as follows:

  • A person commits aggravated arson who commits arson as defined in § 39-14-301 or § 39-14-303 AND
    • One or more persons are present therein OR
    • When any person, including firefighters and law enforcement officials, suffers serious bodily injury as a result of the fire or explosion.

As such, the elements required to convict a defendant of aggravated arson include:

  • Knowingly damaged
  • A structure
  • By means of fire or explosion
  • Without consent OR with consent but for an unlawful purpose
  • One or more persons were there OR a person suffered serious bodily injury because of the fire or explosion

What Are the Potential Penalties for an Arson Conviction in Tennessee?

The potential punishment you face if convicted of arson in Tennessee will depend on several factors, starting with the level of felony involved. Without additional aggravating factors, the potential penalties for arson and related convictions in Tennessee are as follows:

  • Arson. Arson is charged as a Class C felony unless the structure involved is a “place of worship” in which case arson is a Class B felony. A Class B felony carries a sentence of eight to 12 years in prison while a Class C felony conviction is punishable by three to six years in prison.
  • Setting fire to personal property or land. Charged as a Class E felony, the potential penalty for a conviction includes a one-to-two-year prison sentence.
  • Aggravated arson. Aggravated arson is a Class A felony in Tennessee, making it the highest-level felony and carrying a potential punishment of 15 to 25 years in prison

Contact a Murfreesboro Criminal Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges for arson or a related offense in Tennessee it is in your best interest to consult with the best criminal defense lawyer available. With that in mind, the Murfreesboro criminal attorneys at Bennett | Michael | Hornsby urge you to contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Dinah Michael