The Kentucky Penal Code outlaws intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion that destroys or damages a building. Because fires and explosions can be difficult to control, it’s important to have an attorney who can explore whether the Commonwealth can prove that the act was intentional. In addition, an attorney can determine whether certain legal definitions, such as what counts as a building, are met, or whether certain defenses come into play under Kentucky statutes and case law.
DEGREES OF ARSON IN KENTUCKY
In Kentucky, there are three degrees of arson. A person is guilty of arson in the first degree under KRS § 513.020 when he or she starts a fire or causes an explosion with the intent to destroy or damage a building and if a second prong is met. The second prong can be satisfied by one of two conditions: (1) either the building is inhabited or occupied, or the person had reason to believe that the building is inhabited or occupied; or (2) another person sustains serious physical injury as a result of the fire or explosion. Under Kentucky law, a building specifically includes any dwelling, hotel, commercial structure, automobile, truck, watercraft, aircraft, trailer, sleeping car, railroad car, or other structure or vehicle. Serious physical injury is defined under KRS § 500.080 as a physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious and prolonged disfigurement, prolonged impairment of health, or prolonged loss or impairment of the function of a bodily organ.
Arson in the second degree under KRS § 513.030 requires proof that a person started a fire or caused an explosion with intent to destroy or damage either a building belonging to another person. Second-degree arson also covers any fire or explosion caused in order to collect insurance proceeds from the loss, even if the building belongs to the defendant. Arson in the second degree has two statutory defenses. The first is that no person other than the defendant has any possessory or proprietary interest in the building. If someone else had such an interest, all of them consented to the defendant’s conduct. The second statutory defense is that the defendant’s sole intent was to destroy or damage the building for a lawful purpose.
A person is guilty of arson in the third degree under KRS § 513.040 if he or she wantonly cause destruction or damage to a building by intentionally starting a fire or causing an explosion. A person acts wantonly when he or she is aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk and consciously disregards it. A statutory defense applies if no person other than the defendant had a possessory or proprietary interest in the building, or if anyone who does consent to the defendant’s conduct.
Arson in the first degree is a Class A felony and is punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison.
Arson is a Class B felony, which is punishable by 10 to 20 years.
Arson in the third degree is a Class D felony and is punishable by 1 to 5 years.
In addition to Kentucky’s arson offenses, KRS § 513.060 makes it illegal to burn personal property with intent to defraud or injure an insurer. This statute applies when a person sets fire to, burns, or causes to be burned, or aids, counsels, or procures the burning of any of the goods, wares, merchandise, or other personal property of himself or another that is insured at the time against loss or damage by fire. Burning personal property to defraud an insurer is a Class D felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison.