To prove that a person has committed first-degree arson in Minnesota, the prosecution must show that he or she performed the acts specified in the relevant statute beyond a reasonable doubt. The elements of arson in the first degree are listed in statute number 609.561.
Arson in the first degree may involve a dwelling or other types of buildings. If the structure is a dwelling, a person may be held criminally liable for arson in the first degree regardless of whether or not an occupant is present. If the structure is not a dwelling, a person commits first-degree arson if an individual who is not a part of the crime is present inside the structure, or if it is a reasonable possibility that someone is present inside under the circumstances.
First-degree arson is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $20,000 if the structure is a dwelling and up to $35,000 if the structure is not a dwelling but meets the criteria listed above.
A person also may be guilty of first-degree arson if he or she uses fire or other explosives to intentionally damage any building that is not a dwelling whether the property is owned by that individual or someone else. The penalties for this offense include up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
When someone has been charged with arson, he or she may benefit from consulting a criminal defense lawyer. There may be defenses available as the elements of the offense must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest degree of proof required in the justice system. An attorney also may be able to help a defendant avoid substantial jail or prison time and fines by negotiating the charges down to a lesser offense if a plea agreement can be reached.