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10 Fast Facts About Arson Charges in South Carolina

Arson Charges

If you are charged with arson in South Carolina, it is important to understand the nature of the charges against you, the possible penalties if you are convicted and the defenses you may be able to argue. Here are the top ten things to know about arson charges in South Carolina.

There are Multiple Legal Definitions of Arson in South Carolina

South Carolina categorizes arson as a first, second or third degree felony offense. First degree arson is defined under S.C. Code Ann. § 16-11-110 as willfully and maliciously burning, setting fire to, causing an explosion or causing a building, structure or certain property to be burned that results in death or serious bodily injury. If you help commit this crime – even if you weren’t the one who actually started the fire – you can still be charged with this offense.

Under the same section, second degree arson is defined as willfully and maliciously burning, setting fire to, causing an explosion or causing the burning of any of the following:

  • A church or other place of worship
  • A home
  • A school
  • A factory or warehouse
  • A business
  • A local or municipal building
  • An institutional facility
  • Any other structure designed for human occupancy

Again, if you help with this crime, you can be charged with arson, even if you didn’t set the fire yourself.

Third-degree arson is reserved for situations in which a person helps, advises or causes a burning of an aircraft, water vessel, vehicle or other personal property through fire or explosion.

Penalties for Arson in South Carolina Are Serious

There are different potential penalties for arson, depending on the degree:

  • First degree arson – A minimum of 30 years’ imprisonment
  • Second degree arson – Between 3-25 years’ imprisonment
  • Third degree arson – Imprisonment up to 15 years

You Can Be Charged with Arson for Burning Your Own Property

Arson is defined under South Carolina law as burning the property “of the person or another,” so even if you burn your own property, you can still be charged with this crime. Additionally, if you burned your own property in hopes of making a fraudulent insurance claim, you can face insurance fraud charges, which is another felony in South Carolina with stiff penalties.

There Must Be Damage for an Arson Conviction

One of the things that the prosecutor has to prove to secure a conviction is that there is damage caused by the burning. If you burned something and it did not cause damage, the definition of the crime has not been met.

The Fire Must Have Been Intentional and Malicious

If you accidentally caused a fire, this is not arson. The prosecutor has the burden of showing that you “willfully” (intentionally) and “maliciously” started the fire. This means you did it on purpose and for a bad purpose. If you simply accidentally caused a fire and it damaged property, this situation will not rise to the level of arson.

There are a Number of Courts that May Hear the Case

In South Carolina, the circuit court in the county where you are charged with the offense hears the case. The criminal division of these courts is called General Sessions. South Carolina has 46 counties with Greenville, Richland and Charleston Counties being the largest.

The main courthouses that deal with felony cases for the largest three counties are listed below.

Greenville County

305 E. North Street

Greenville, SC 29601

(864) 467-8551

Judges: Perry H. Gravely, D. Garrison Hill, Robin B. Stilwell, Letitia H. Verdin

Court Clerk: Paul B. Wickensimer

Court hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday – Friday

Richland County

Richland County Circuit Court

1701 Main St.

Columbia, South Carolina 29201

(803) 576-1950

Chief Justice: Jean Hoefer Toal (retired)

Court clerk: Jeannette McBride

Court hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday – Friday

Charleston County

Charleston County Circuit Court

100 Broad St.

Suite 106

Charleston, South Carolina 29401

(843) 958-5000

Judges: Deadra L. Jefferson, Roger M. Young, Sr.

Court clerk: Julie J. Armstrong

Court hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday – Friday 

If Facing Arson Charges in South Carolina, You Need Legal Assistance

Because the penalties for a conviction of arson in South Carolina are so serious, it is critical that you quickly retain qualified legal counsel as soon as you believe you are being investigated for the crime. Do not talk to law enforcement and try to explain what happened. They will do all they can to try to trick you into confessing. Do not speak with police or prosecutors without having a lawyer present. Politely refuse any request to speak with police. If you are arrested for arson in South Carolina, quickly contact an attorney experienced in defending clients against serious criminal charges, like Freddy Woods.

There May Be Several Defenses Available to You

One of the most important reasons why you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer is that he or she can determine the defenses that may apply in your case, given the specific circumstances of the case. In America, you have the presumption of innocence, meaning that the judge and jury must assume that you are innocent until the prosecution establishes otherwise. One common defense to arson charges is to show that the prosecution has not met its burden of proof. If the prosecutor cannot show that you committed every element of the crime by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge or jury must acquit you.

Often, police or insurance companies may conduct only a cursory investigation into the fire and quickly conclude that it is arson. They may destroy evidence or fail to retain it, which might be able to prove your innocence. If someone said they saw you start the fire, this could be a case of mistaken identity.

A Fire Investigator May Be Necessary for Your Defense

The prosecutor must be able to show that the fire was caused by arson and not by some other cause, such as an electrical circuit overload, lightning or an accident. A fire investigator can investigate the cause of the fire and the circumstances surrounding it. These investigators may be retired firefighters or trained professionals who have a through understanding of how fires start, accelerants and the burn patterns that emerge from different causes of fires. Your private fire investigator may be able to provide compelling testimony that establishes the fire was not caused by arson or was not started in the way the prosecution has alleged.

The Woods Law Firm Can Help When You Are Facing Serious Arson Charges

If you are facing felony arson charges in South Carolina, it is imperative that you contact the Woods Law Firm for help with your case. We will carefully review your case to determine the defenses that may be available to you. We can also work to quickly mitigate the case by filing pre-trial motions to suppress evidence that was illegally obtained. We can also attempt to reach a favorable plea bargain in your case to reduce the charges so that you do not face the serious consequences associated with a felony charge and lifetime criminal record. Contact us today so that we can start building a defense on your behalf.

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