Houman Fakhimi

Arson can Lead to Felony Charges in Orange County

A man accused of setting fire to an apartment garage has been arrested.

Riverside Criminal Defense Lawyer Houman Fakhimi understands that authorities in Pasadena have reported the damages to be estimated at around $200,000 -- including the destruction of two vehicles and damage to at least three others. The fire also damaged the occupied structure that was next to it.

No one was injured.

The blaze was reportedly set on Sept. 8 around 2 a.m.

It reportedly took firefighters about 15 minutes to extinguish the flames.

Investigators said there was a great deal of pressure from the community to find the suspect in the case, and detectives relied heavily on surveillance footage from cameras that were positioned in the area.

It's not clear whether the suspect had a motive.

Arson is defined in California Penal Code 451, which forbids intentionally or maliciously setting fire to a structure, land or some other property. California Penal Code 452 also forbids reckless burning, which is defined as unlawfully causing a fire. The latter is the less severe of the two, and requires that prosecutors prove that you set fire to something and that you did so recklessly. In that case, it doesn't matter what your intention was, only that you knew a potential risk existed and you ignored that risk when you did it.

Arson is one of those crimes that is actually much more technical in terms of the investigation than you might think. That's why arrests in these cases are often somewhat delayed, because investigators have to piece together enough evidence to prove that the fire was set on purpose, as opposed to having been a total accident.

How do they do this?

The first thing arson investigators typically do is examine the scene for any signs of forced entry, footprints, rags or gasoline containers. They will be looking for any kind of incendiary devices, such as lighters, matches or explosives.

In order to disprove an accidental fire, they'll be checking for obvious causes of accidental blazes. These would include faulty wiring or cigarettes or an appliance that may have malfunctioned or sparks from a fireplace.

The next thing they do is determine where the fire started. Usually, if it appears the fire started in more than one place, they can assume it was arson. Also, if there are "patterns" in the fire, it could indicate that it was set intentionally, as opposed to having caught fire and burned on its own.

Investigators will also be looking to identify any the presence of certain chemicals that may have been used as accelerants. Sometimes, departments will employ specially-trained dogs to sniff out the presence of these substances.

And then, as in this case, they will be looking at the video evidence, interviewing neighbors or potential witnesses - anyone who may have seen or knows something about why anyone may have wanted to do harm to the building.

So all of this plays a role in how investigators reach the conclusion of arson, over an accidental fire. At the end of the day, it's not an absolute science, and some of it remains subjective.

This gives your defense attorney a foundation upon which to formulate a solid defense. Other defense strategies include arguing that the fire was an accident or that investigators have identified the wrong person.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are charged with a crime in Orange County.