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When does arson become a federal offense?

On Behalf of | Nov 8, 2023 | Criminal Defense, Federal Offenses |

Arson is a crime involving the intentional burning of property intending to cause damage. It’s also considered one of the more severe crimes to charge someone with, because fire can quickly destroy properties and lives.

South Carolina has laws against arson, and the state prosecutes anyone accused under those rules regardless of the value of the damage caused. However, some arson cases are federal offenses instead. When does this happen?

Damaging government property leads to federal charges

According to the U.S. Code, it’s a federal offense to cause a fire or explosion maliciously to damage any building, vehicle or property used in interstate or foreign commerce.

There’s also a provision for arson targeting property within America’s special maritime and territorial jurisdiction. These properties include vessels, machinery, military stores and appliances used for shipping and navigation. This is a separate charge from damaging property used for interstate or foreign commerce.

The penalties for a federal arson conviction

If a federal court convicts a person of damaging property used for interstate or foreign commerce, the person faces up to 40 years of prison and $250,000 in fines.

Meanwhile, a conviction for arson within special maritime and territorial jurisdiction leads to up to 25 years of prison. The court may also order the convicted to pay as much as $250,000 in fines or furnish the cost of repairing or replacing the damaged property, whichever value is higher.

If either offense leads to the death of another, the prison sentence penalty extends to life imprisonment.

Whether it’s a state or federal offense, arson is a crime with severe consequences. Not only does a conviction carry decades of imprisonment, but the convicted is expected to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.