Certain factors can take an existing crime and make it even worse, adding to the penalties you could suffer if a court convicts you. When it comes to the crime of arson, you may serve up to seven years in prison if charged with a third degree felony. However, acts that make an arson crime more destructive or even deadly could put you in prison for much longer.
Pennsylvania law criminalizes various types of arson. Depending on what happens during the arson or what your motivations are for committing the arson, you may serve a long prison sentence and have to pay enhanced fines.
There is a difference between acting recklessly and acting with clear intention. To act in a reckless fashion is to forego common sense and take unjustified risks when committing an action. So a person who sets a building on fire through reckless action likely did not intend to burn down the building. Because of this, the prosecutor may only charge the arsonist with a third degree felony.
If law enforcement has good reason to think you might have started a fire with a clear intent to destroy property, you could be at risk of a second degree felony charge. The state of Pennsylvania criminalizes intentional arson if you directly set a building on fire or if you help another person do so. State law also punishes people with a second degree felony charge if they destroy their own property to try to collect insurance money.
Endangering human lives
When arson endangers the lives of other people, the charges can go even higher. If you were to intentionally burn down a structure with people in it, a prosecutor will likely charge you with a first degree felony, which can put you in prison for up to 20 years.
In the event an arson fire kills a person, a prosecutor can introduce murder charges. You could incur a second degree felony murder charge if your arson fire had killed someone fighting the fire. Even worse, a person who intentionally tries to kill someone with an arson fire can incur a first degree murder charge.