A fire in the Philadelphia area shows how much criminal law in Pennsylvania focuses on your intentions. Depending on whether the fire was accidental or intentional will determine whether the suspect could be charged with arson.
Apartment Fire Allegedly Caused by Poor Bedbug Extermination
The fire department responded to calls of an apartment fire immediately outside of Philadelphia in the early morning hours of August 1, 2019. When they got to the Elizabeth Manor Apartments in Upper Darby, they found flames billowing from the window of one of the apartments on the top floor.
Despite the intensity of the flames, they were able to control the fire to the originating apartment. Only a few other adjacent apartments suffered smoke damage, and no one was hurt.
After the fire was put out, the resident from the apartment told firefighters that she caused it. She claimed that she'd been using rubbing alcohol to kill bedbugs. When she turned on her gas stove, the flames from the stove set fire to the rubbing alcohol and spread to the rest of her apartment.
Pennsylvania's Arson Laws Require an Intent to Set the Fire
Pennsylvania's law against arson is found at 33 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3301. The law forbids intentionally setting a fire or starting an explosion. Importantly, it is up to the prosecutor to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the fire was intentionally set. An effective defense strategy against an arson charge – or against any criminal charge that requires intentional conduct for a conviction – is to raise reasonable doubts about whether a defendant intended to do the crime.
Even the Smallest Facts Can Matter
When arguing about someone's state of mind during an alleged crime, even the most trivial of facts can make a huge difference in the outcome.
For example, in this case, the apartment resident claimed that she was trying to get rid of bedbugs when she started the fire. This would make the fire an accident, rather than intentional. Evidence that there is a bedbug problem in the building and in her apartment would go a long ways towards supporting her assertion that it was an accident.
Even whether the resident rented or owned the apartment could help or hurt her case. If she rented the apartment, then she may not have an insurance policy that would have paid her to cover the costs of the fire and her losses. Without this motivation for starting the fire, it undercuts any claim that she did it intentionally.
Criminal Defense in Philadelphia With Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense attorney who represents the accused in Philadelphia. Whether you have been accused of committing a serious felony like arson or a minor misdemeanor or even a traffic offense, Joseph D. Lento can invoke your rights in court and protect your interests and your future.
Reach out to him by calling his law office in Philadelphia at (215) 535-5353 or by contacting him online if you have been arrested and charged with a crime in the area.