match on fire

Arson and Aggravated Arson Attorney in Hudson County



The crime of arson is taken seriously by the State of New Jersey, law enforcement, and prosecutors. As such, anyone who deliberately sets a fire or fails to take action to stop it can be prosecuted and possibly punished in the form of incarceration. In fact, your exposure when charged with arson is being sent to state prison. In an arson case, the degree of the charge and the jail term are determined by the particular conduct and the intention of the person accused of setting the fire. In all cases, however, defending arson charges can be tricky and is best left to those with experience. During a criminal trial, cross-examination is a key tool in exposing the truth and chipping away at the state’s case. This is because often, all the state has is just a hunch without any physical proof that it was you who committed the crime in question. At William Proetta Criminal Law, our criminal defense lawyers have been practicing criminal law for many years and have experience cross-examining state’s witnesses, among other critical methods for disproving the charges in a court of law. To speak with a knowledgeable criminal attorney and sounding board who frequently defends clients charged with arson, criminal mischiefpossession of weapons for unlawful purposes, and other crimes in Hudson County, contact us at (201) 793-8018 today. The consultation is free and a member of our defense team is available 24/7 to assist you.


In New Jersey, anyone who intentionally sets a fire and causes damage to another person or property can expect to be prosecuted. The difference between a more serious aggravated arson of the first or second degree and a lesser fourth degree really lies with the person’s intention to harm. For example, someone who has no intention to hurt anyone would be less culpable than someone who intended to set a fire knowing that it would kill someone. As such, the crime of arson is broken down into four categories namely: aggravated arson, arson, failing to report a fire, and arson for compensation. Each section requires a showing of varying degrees of conduct and intention to harm.


The most serious arson offense is a first degree indictable crime. For a first degree, the allegations must include facts that you either agreed to pay someone to commit arson, or that you accepted payment or some benefit to start a fire or cause an explosion. There is no requirement that the money actually exchanged hands or that the benefit was fully realized in order to be charged. A first degree charge can also be filed if it is alleged that you committed arson for payment/benefit or if you committed aggravated arson or arson (see explanation below) and the structure was a church, place of worship, or any synagogue. Both first and second degree crimes are the most serious of criminal offenses, subjecting you to substantial incarceration if convicted.

To be convicted of this crime of the second degree for arson, the state must prove that you set fire to any property or caused an explosion thereon. The explosion or fire must be shown to have been done knowing that someone else could be harmed or killed, or with the purpose of harming anyone. Alternatively, the state could set out to prove that you: intentionally destroyed any structure, destroyed property for insurance proceeds and acted in reckless disregard for others safety, burned a structure to avoid or eliminate any state or local zoning laws, etc., and could have harmed someone in the process, or intended to destroy a forest. An example of aggravated arson is if you were to intentionally set fire to your girlfriend’s home knowing that she was in it, hoping that it would burn to the ground.

A less serious arson can also be charged as a third degree crime. To be found guilty of this offense, the state must prove that you purposely started a fire and in doing so you recklessly put others at risk of injury, recklessly jeopardized the destruction of property, or had the purpose of collecting insurance proceeds or exempting the structure from certain laws. An even lesser offense of arson is that of a fourth degree indictable offense.

In the case of a fourth degree violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1, the state makes it illegal to not report a fire that has grown out of control or to not take measures to control the fire. Simply put, if a person starts a fire lawfully and the fire gets out of control, they have to try to put it out. If they cannot put it out or control the fire, they still have an obligation to report it to the authorities who can help. If you start a little fire pit and douse it with gasoline and it gets out of control, you have to control it or call the police or fire department for help and to report the fire.


The difference between aggravated arson and arson is your intent when committing the offense. In other words, were your actions deliberately taken with the purpose to cause the given outcome? In the more serious crime of arson, the mental state is “purposely” instead of “recklessly,” as is the case with third degree arson. Recklessly means to do something more or less by accident or without regard for the risk, whereas purposely means you acted with intent. An example of a third degree arson could be if you threw a molotov cocktail for fun and it exploded, causing a nearby house to catch fire. It was not your intention to light the house up, but your recklessness caused damage nonetheless.


Each degree of crime contains a different prison term that may be imposed if convicted. For an arson crime of the first degree, a sentence of 10-20 years can be imposed, while for a second degree, 5-10 years may be imposed upon conviction. For both first and second degree crimes, there is a presumption of incarceration which means that it is relatively certain that you will go to state prison upon conviction. If the targeted structure involved a house of worship as noted above, the minimum term that must be imposed is 15 years. Similarly, in some cases, the No Early Release Act (NERA) will apply as well, which means you could be forced to remain in prison until you serve no less than 85% of your sentence. For third degree arson crimes, NERA would not apply, and you could do as little as probation or as much as 3-5 years in state prison. As for the lowest degree of arson, a fourth degree felony offense, probation or a maximum of 18 months in jail is authorized.


Every year, there are countless wildfires that destroy thousands of acres in the western part of the United States. States like California and Arizona have “wildfire season” during which conditions such as temperature, weather, drought, and human error play a role in the spreading of fires. Sometimes, these fires are caused by lightning and dry land. While in other cases, the fire may have started by an individual’s actions and it quickly rages out of control, causing destruction to property, land, and even death. Considering the myriad of factors that influence these scenarios, any arson case requires careful analysis of the particular sequence of events. What the police say happened must be put against what witnesses saw, did not see, hear or did not hear, and tested against baseless assumptions. Often, adept cross-examination is key, as is meticulous investigation of the accompanying evidence when disputing arson charges. Whether you or a loved one has been accused of arson or another offense involving a fire or damaged property, the defense lawyers at our Hudson County criminal law firm can help. For further information and answers to your questions, contact our local Jersey City office at (201) 793-8018 for a free consultation.