NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – As wildfire season begins in New Mexico, it is important to understand the laws surrounding fires – specifically those that are accidentally started. Arson is a serious charge in New Mexico; however, the charges depend largely on the amount of damage caused by the fire and the intent behind it.
The intent behind a fire is the main determining factor in potential charges. The prosecution must be able to prove that the person acted “willfully” and or “maliciously” when charging anyone with arson. So, in short, no, you will not be charged with arson for accidentally starting a fire.
However, accidental fires could result in lesser charges, depending on the circumstances. Negligent arson is one example of this. If a fire is started as a result of reckless behavior, whether intentionally or not, it may result in a negligent arson charge, which is a fourth-degree felony.
According to New Mexico Statutes as defined by justia.com, and nmonesource.com, arson in New Mexico is defined as follows:
How is arson defined in New Mexico?
- Arson consists of a person willfully starting a fire with the purpose of destroying or damaging:
- A building, occupied structure, or property of another person.
- A bridge, utility line, fence, or sign.
- Any property, whether the person’s own or another person’s to collect insurance for the loss.
- Arson resulting in less than $250 in loss is a petty misdemeanor.
- The standard sentence for a petty misdemeanor in New Mexico includes up to 182 days in jail and a $500 fine.
- Arson resulting in $250-$500 in loss is a misdemeanor.
- The standard sentence for a misdemeanor in New Mexico includes up to 364 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
- Arson resulting in $500-$2,500 in loss is a fourth-degree felony.
- The standard sentence for a fourth-degree felony in New Mexico includes up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.
- Arson resulting in $2,500-$20,000 in loss is a third-degree felony.
- The standard sentence for a third-degree felony in New Mexico includes up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
- Arson resulting in more than $20,000 in loss is a second-degree felony.
- The standard sentence for a second-degree felony in New Mexico includes up to nine years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
How is negligent arson defined in New Mexico?
- Negligent arson consists of a person recklessly starting a fire and thereby directly:
- Causing the death or injury of another person.
- Damaging or destroying a building or occupied structure of another person.
- All negligent arson is a fourth-degree felony: up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.
How is aggravated arson defined in New Mexico?
- Aggravated arson consists of the willful or malicious setting of fire to any structure, causing a person great bodily harm.
- All aggravated arson is a second-degree felony: up to nine years in prison and a $10,000 fine, or, for causing a death, up to 15 years in prison and a $12,500 fine.
If you are charged with a felony following a fire, Grano Law recommends:
- Exercising your right to remain silent
- Speaking with a New Mexico criminal defense lawyer
- Remaining calm and polite while dealing with authorities
- Understanding the charges that you are facing
- Attending all court proceedings and following through on orders
For up-to-date information on New Mexico wildfires, visit KRQE News 13 online.