Because of the danger and unpredictability of fire, arson is one of the gravest criminal offenses. Not only can flames cause property damage and injuries (or death), but the resulting toxic smoke can also incapacitate and kill anyone caught in between.
But arson isn’t the only burning offense that’s a crime. Missouri law classifies burning offenses into three categories: negligent, reckless and knowingly burning. What is the difference between these offenses, and what are their penalties?
According to state law, a person commits the offense of negligent burning or exploding if their criminal negligence causes damage to property or areas such as grasslands, woodlands or croplands by causing a fire or allowing a fire burning on their property to spread. Those whose fires accidentally spread and cause damage face this charge.
As a lesser criminal charge than a deliberate act of burning, this offense is a Class C misdemeanor. On conviction, the convicted person faces up to 15 days of jail time and $750 in fines.
On the other hand, reckless burning is like negligent burning, but with one key difference. Per the law, a person commits reckless burning or exploding if they “recklessly” start a fire and cause damage to the property of another.
For a person to be charged with reckless burning, their conduct during the offense had to exhibit a reckless disregard for safety. For instance, if a man started a campfire in the middle of a forest filled with dried leaves and other natural fuel and that fire went out of control, the man could face reckless burning charges.
Reckless burning is a Class B misdemeanor; a conviction leads to up to six months in jail and as much as $1,000 in fines.
A person commits the criminal offense of knowingly burning if they deliberately start a fire or explosion to damage the property of another. This offense is a Class E felony, which carries a four-year prison sentence and up to $10,000 in fines.
Those who are charged with knowingly causing a fire to damage property may also face separate charges for arson. For officials to charge someone with arson, the fire should’ve damaged or destroyed a building or an inhabitable structure owned by another.
In conclusion, there are three types of burning offenses. The severity of the penalties for these offenses depends on the intent behind the fires. If you’re accused of causing a damaging fire, know that you could face charges for a reckless or intentionally caused fire, even if the conflagration was an accident. Consider consulting with a legal professional to understand your defense options in court.