Arson is a serious offense in SC and carries substantial prison time including mandatory minimum sentences if convicted.

What is the legal definition of Arson in SC? What does the state have to prove and what are the possible defenses?

What is Arson in SC?

Arson is defined in S.C. Code Section 16-11-110. An offense can be first, second, or third-degree arson. The severity of the offense is determined by the location that is burned and whether anyone was hurt or killed in the fire.

Actions that are considered arson include when a person:

  • Causes an explosion;
  • Sets fire to;
  • Burns;
  • Causes to be burned; or
  • Aids, counsels or procures a burning.
Is There a Specific Intent that the State Must Prove for Arson?

Most crimes require that the state prove what is called “general criminal intent.” If a person did not intend to commit the criminal act, they are not guilty of the crime.

There are some crimes that do not require a criminal intent, like speeding or statutory rape – whether you intended to commit the crime or not is irrelevant.

Other crimes require a specific intent. Arson requires that a person committed the act “willfully and maliciously,” which is a much higher burden of proof than most crimes.  

Can I Be Convicted of Arson if I set Fire to My Own Property?

It does not matter if the property is your own or someone else’s.

Arson in the First Degree

First-degree arson in SC carries a penalty of no less than 30 years. If a person commits either second or third-degree arson that results in death or serious bodily injury to a person, the charge is “upgraded” to first degree arson.

Arson in the Second Degree

Second-degree arson carries a potential penalty of no less than three years in prison and up to 25 years in prison.

It is considered a second-degree arson if the damaged property is a:

  • Dwelling house;
  • Church or place of worship;
  • Public or private school facility;
  • Manufacturing plant or warehouse;
  • Building where business is conducted;
  • Institutional facility; or
  • Any structure designed for human occupancy including local and municipal buildings.
Arson in the Third Degree

Third-degree arson is punishable by up to 15 years. It applies when the damaged property is:

  • Any building or structure not covered by first or second-degree arson;
  • A railway car;
  • A ship, boat, or other watercraft;
  • An aircraft;
  • An automobile or other motor vehicle; or
  • Personal property.
What Type of Damage Qualifies as Arson?

You don’t have to completely burn a building down to be charged with arson – it is enough that a person’s actions cause:

  • Burning;
  • Charring;
  • Blistering;
  • Scorching;
  • Smoking;
  • Singeing;
  • Discoloring; or
  • Changing the fiber or composition of the building, structure, or property.
Do I Need an Expert Witness to Help Defend Against Arson Charges?

In many cases, you do. Fires can result from many different causes, including electrical problems, faulty appliances, falling asleep with a lit cigarette, or intentional arson.

The determination of whether a fire was accidental or intentional can be made based on the results of the arson investigation by the state, statements obtained from a suspect or from witnesses, or even on the results of an arson investigation conducted by an insurance company.

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may need an independent arson expert to examine the evidence and testify to jurors at your trial.

SC Arson Defense Attorney in Myrtle Beach, Columbia, and Lexington

Criminal defense lawyer Lacey Thompson will review the state's evidence, conduct an independent investigation of your case, and retain a private arson investigator, when appropriate, to review the state investigator's determinations.

If you have been charged with Arson in SC, call the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm now at 843-444-6122 or contact us online for a free initial consultation regarding your case.