Arson under Texas Law
After a suspicious fire or explosion, local law enforcement officers and investigators with the Texas Fire Marshall will conduct an investigation. In fact, Texas statutes provide that the State Fire Marshall can commission law enforcement officers to act as arson and fire investigators.The State of Texas used tremendous resource to investigate these crimes because the huge potential for property damage, serious personal injury or death.
Because eye witnesses rarely see how the fire is started, these cases are highly circumstantial in nature. Motives to start a fire an range from insurance fraud to hate crimes. Statistics show that a large percentage of arson crimes are committed by juveniles who are curious about fire and its destructive nature.
Attorney for Arson Cases in Texas for Houston and the Woodlands
If someone in your family is under investigation for arson, it is important that you hire an attorney before making any statements to law enforcement. Contact Houston criminal defense lawyer Matt Horak to discuss any arson case in the greater Harris County area or surrounding areas such as The Woodlands and Montgomery County, Texas.
Horak Law aggressively defends clients accused of property crimes in Southeast Texas. Call us locally at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at [phone-tollfree] to schedule a confidential consultation that will let out attorney review your case.
Elements of the Criminal Offense of Arson
The criminal offense of arson alleges that the defendant starts a fire (regardless of whether the fire continues after ignition) or causes an explosion with the intent to damage or destroy and building, structure, or vehicle while knowing:
- it is insured against destruction or damage;
- it is subject to a mortgage or other security interest;
- it has property in it that belongs to another;
- it is located on property belong to another; or
- it is within the limits of an incorporated town or city.
Additionally, if the person starts the fire when the person is reckless about whether the explosion or burning will endanger another person’s safety or life, then arson can be alleged.
Arson Investigations by the Texas Fire Marshall
The Texas Department of Insurance through the State Fire Marshal’s Office provides assistant to local communities to conduct arson and fire investigations. When requested by local authorities, the Fire and Arson Investigation Services Division will send out investigatory resources to the scene of a fire.
During the investigation, the Texas Fire Marshall will seek to determine the origin and cause of the fire and to help local law enforcement officers in analyzing and collecting the evidence that could lead to a prosecution for the criminal offense of arson. The Texas Fire Marshall’s Office also uses the services of specially trained dogs to help with collecting evidence. The evidence collected is then analyzed by the Texas Fire Marshal’s Forensic Arson Laboratory.
Arson in Open Space Land
Arson can even be alleged for starting a fire in an open field in order to destroy vegetation, a structure or fense in the open field. Texas law defines the term “open-space land” to mean any real property that is undeveloped for the purpose of human habitation.
It is a defense to any allegation of arson if the fire was started in “open space land” if the fire was part of a controlled burning. Texas law limits a “controlled burning” to those fires started to burn unwanted vegetation in a manner that the fire is limited to that designated area on which the vegetation is located. A controlled burning must also take place with the content of the owner of the property.
Explosion Within Limits of Incorporated Town or City as Arson Defense
In rare cases, it may be a defense to arson when prior to causing the explosion or starting the fire the person accused obtained written authorization or a permit granted in accordance with a city ordinance, if any, regulating explosions and fires.
In these cases the jury may be instructed at trial that if the jury has a reasonable doubt about whether the defendant obtained a permit or other written authorization granted in accordance with a city ordinance, if any, regulating fires and explosions, then the jury must find the defendant not guilty of arson.
Arson Causing Death of Bodily Injury
Enhanced penalties result under Texas law when the fire or explosion caused death or bodily injury to another person. Texas law defines “bodily injury” to mean any illness, physical pain or any impairment of the physical condition.
Arson of a Habitation, Home or Residence
“Habitation” means a structure or vehicle that is adapted for the overnight accommodation of persons and includes each separately secured or occupied portion of the structure or vehicle and each structure appurtenant to or connected with the structure or vehicle.
Arson of a Building
Texas law defines “building” for purposes of the arson statute to include any enclosure or structure or enclosure intended for occupation or use as a habitation or for some purpose of trade, manufacture, ornament, or use.
Arson of a Vehicle
Texas law defines the term “vehicle” for purposes of the arson statute as including any device in, on, or by which any property or person is or may be drawn, moved or propelled in the normal course of transportation or commerce.
Arson at a Place of Worship
Texas law also provided for enhanced penalties also result when the fire damages a church or other place of worship.
Any allegation of arson is serious. Contact criminal defense attorney Matt Horak to discuss an arson investigation in Houston for Harris County, or The Woodlands for Montgomery County, TX.
Texas Links for Arson Investigations
Arson Investigations by Texas Fire Marshal’s Office – Find information on the Texas Department of Insurance website for the Texas Fire Marshal’s Office and its responsibility to handle arson investigations involving hate crimes, a serial arsonist and catastrophic fires involving significant property damage, death, or a threat to public safety.
Houston Fire and Arson Investigation Division – The Houston Fire and Arson Investigation Division is the law enforcement agency of the Houston Fire Department. The HFD Arson Division responds to fires involving serious personal injury or death, bombings, and suspected terrorist activity involving explosions or fires. In 2007 alone, the HFD Arson Division responded to more than 1,400 fires. That year, more than 160 criminal cases were referred to the Harris County District Attorney’s office of the Houston Juvenile Firestoppers program.