The 14-year-old teenage girl who set the Cocos fire in San Diego last May was sentenced recently by Judge Howard Shore in a two-week non-jury trial. The minor, whose identity has not been revealed, was sentenced to 400 hours of community service and must pay $40,000 in restitution in fines. She must also report back to the judge every 60 days and write ‘apology’ letters to the victims of the fire who lost their homes. She will serve no jail time.
The teen was convicted of three arson counts one misdemeanor count of allowing a fire to get out of control. Originally, she (13 at the time) set a fire in her backyard which was extinguished by San Diego firefighters. She then set another one the next day, and another one in a neighbor’s backyard, which set the ember that traveled nearly half a mile to spark the Cocos fire. The Cocos fire then spread to more than a dozen brush fires due to the hot, dry, windy conditions and burnt over 2,000 acres and destroyed three dozen homes. The judge ruled that the teen acted “willfully and maliciously in setting the fires,” but said there was no evidence to suggest she intended to harm anyone or burn homes.
The Crime of Arson
California’s arson laws are covered in the Penal Code Sections 451 and 452, make it a crime to set fire to any building, forest land, or property—either 1) willfully and maliciously (this is the crime commonly known as “arson”), or 2) recklessly (aka “reckless burning” or “reckless arson”). You can still be charged with arson in the state for setting a fire if: 1) the property is a building or other real estate; you set it to your personal property for insurance fraud purposes; or 3) the fire causes injury to another.
Arson is a misdemeanor under Penal Code 452, however it turns into a felony if it causes bodily injury. If the fire has been set “willfully and maliciously” it will always be a felony. A fire that results in a death will further result in a murder charge under Penal Code 187 under California’s felony-murder rule.
Some common defenses to a charge of arson are:
- You are a victim of mistaken identification;
- The fire was an accident;
- The evidence is insufficient; or
- The fire was not the result of arson.
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney
The Law Offices of David M. Boertje is prepared to provide you with an aggressive defense if you have been charged with a crime in California. Reach out to our skilled attorneys today for a consultation and to learn how we may be of assistance.