Recently, a Bethlehem man was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for killing a woman and her son. The woman was 97 years old and the man convicted of killing her, Drew Rose, intended to rob her for rent money before setting her home on fire. The sentence the man received may sound harsh, but he avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to two counts of criminal homicide, two counts of burglary, and one count each of robbery and arson.
The story, while horrific, is an interesting one. Arson is a very common criminal offense in Pennsylvania, but it is largely misunderstood. If you or someone you love has been charged, it is important to understand the arson laws of the state.
Defining Arson in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, a person commits arson when they intentionally start a fire, cause an explosion, or advise or help another person to start a fire or cause an explosion. A person can be charged with arson for setting fire or causing an explosion on their own property, or on someone else’s property, if they recklessly place another person in danger of bodily injury or death. This may include law enforcement officers and firefighters that arrive on the scene to fight the fire.
Under the law, the structure a person sets fire to, or causes an explosion in or around, does not have to be a home or a business. The structure also does not have to burn entirely for the crime to be classified as arson. The prosecution must only show that the fire was started intentionally.
Types of Arson Charges
There are three degrees of arson in Pennsylvania, depending on the circumstances of a specific case. The three types of arson charges include:
- Third-degree felony: A person can be charged with a third degree felony if they are in possession of explosive or incendiary materials, or if they transport or manufacture them.
- First-degree felony: A person may face first-degree felony charges if they started a fire or caused an explosion, or hired anyone to do so, in an attempt to endanger other people.
- Second-degree murder: When a person is killed as a result of someone else starting a fire or causing an explosion, they may face charges of second-degree murder.
If you have been charged with arson in Pennsylvania, the stakes are very high. You may be sentenced to long prison terms, high fines, and more. It is critical that you speak to a criminal defense lawyer that can help you avoid these harsh penalties.
Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in Allentown Can Advise on Your Case
If you or someone you love has been charged with arson, our Allentown criminal defense lawyers at van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin can help. Our skilled attorneys know the defenses available and we will use them effectively to give you the best chance of beating your charges. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today by calling (215) 486-0123 or contact us online and get the sound legal advice you need.