Category Archives: Arson of a Dwelling House

Criminal Lawyer in Jackson, Mississippi Explains Arson of a Church or Place of Worship

Mississippi law deals severely with persons who are charged with arson of a church or house of worship.  The Mississippi first-degree arson statutes contain a section that deals specifically with setting fire to a church.

The basic elements of church arson in Mississippi are similar to those for arson of a house or dwelling.  Specifically, in order to prove the charge of arson of a church, the State must show: (1) that the defendant willfully and maliciously, (2) set fire to, or burned, or caused to be burned, or was a party to destruction by explosion from combustible material, (3) a church or other place of worship.  Mississippi arson law also provides that a person may be charged and convicted under the arson statute if he aids, counsels or procures the burning of a church or place of worship.

In addition to the above, under Mississippi arson law, a person can be found guilty of arson of a church regardless of whether the church was in use or vacant.

A person charged with arson of a church in Mississippi faces a potential sentence of five (5) to thirty (30) years in prison, and restitution for any property damaged as a result of the arson.  It is noteworthy that this maximum sentence exceeds the maximum sentence for arson of a dwelling by ten (10) years.

Of all crimes in Mississippi, arson is perhaps the most defensible.  Arson is the type of crime that usually has no witnesses, the case is entirely circumstantial, most physical evidence is destroyed by fire, and arson investigators frequently disagree with one another as to the cause and origin of a fire.  The nature of this crime provides a defense on every front for someone charged with arson in Mississippi.

I am a Mississippi criminal defense lawyer and I’m here to help.  If you’ve been charged with arson of a church or other building, please visit my Jackson, Mississippi Criminal Defense website for more information, or call 601.944.1984 for a free case evaluation.

Jackson, Mississippi Criminal Lawyer Explains Charge of Arson of a Dwelling House or First-Degree Arson

Charged with arson in Mississippi?  Following are some facts about the crime of arson of a dwelling house (also known as first-degree arson) in Mississippi.

In order to convict a person of arson, the State must show:

(a) that the defendant willfully and maliciously;

(b) set fire to, or caused to be burned, or aided or procured the burning;

(c) of any dwelling house (or state-supported school);

Mississippi Code Section 97-17-1.  Arson of a dwelling house is a felony, and carries a sentence of five (5) to twenty (20) years in prison.

Under Mississippi arson law, a dwelling house includes not only the house itself, but also any kitchen, shop, barn, stable or other structure that is on the same parcel of land with the house.  It does not matter if the house was occupied or vacant at the time the arson was committed.  Either way, it’s still arson under this statute.

The house may be the property of another person or the defendant himself.  In other words, a person can be charged with arson in Mississippi, even if he sets fire to his own property.

In order to prove arson, the State must prove that the fire was set intentionally.  This is usually proven through the use of an arson investigator.  Arson investigators determine whether a fire was intentionally set, by using scientific testing and investigation.

Negligently or accidentally starting a fire is not arson in Mississippi.  The State is not required to prove that the defendant had a motive to commit arson.  However, if the State has evidence of a motive on the part of the defendant, the State can introduce this evidence at trial.  The defendant can then present evidence that he or she had no motive.

In Mississippi, arson is the type of crime that usually does not have any eyewitnesses to the crime or direct evidence linking the suspect to the crime.  The State almost always attempts to prove arson by circumstantial evidence.  Because of this, there are a large number of defenses to available for a person charged with arson.  A few examples of these defenses include:

(a)  The fire was an accident, rather than intentionally set.  The defendant has the right to offer proof through an independent arson investigator that the fire was not intentionally set;

(b) The defendant can show that he had no reason, or motive, to set fire to the property.  This usually occurs when the State alleges that the defendant set fire to the property because of financial difficulties, or where there was bad blood between the defendant and the victim.  Note that the State is not required to prove motive;

(c) The defendant may show that he was somewhere else at the time the fire was started.  This is known as an alibi defense. 

These are but a few of the defenses available to a person charged with arson in Mississippi.  I am a criminal lawyer who handles arson cases in Jackson, Madison, Ridgeland, and all other areas of Mississippi.  If you’ve been charged with arson, please call me at 601.944.1984 to discuss your case.  There is no charge for an initial consultation.