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NY Penal Law § 150.20: Arson in the first degree

Arson involves damaging property by setting it on fire or causing an explosion. There are five degrees of the arson. The charge you will face depends on factors such as whether or not a person was in the structure, whether or not someone was injured, and how the fire or explosion was started. Arson in the first degree is the most serious of the five arson offenses. In fact, like kidnapping in the first degree and murder in the first degree, arson in the first degree is one of the most serious crimes in the New York criminal code. According to New York Penal Law § 150.20, you could be prosecuted for arson in the first degree if you intentionally damage property by causing a fire or explosion and:

  1. The fire or explosion is caused by a propelled incendiary device
  2. The fire or explosion is caused by an explosive
  3. The fire or explosion caused serious physical injury
  4. The fire or explosion was caused with the expectation or receipt of a financial advantage
  5. Someone was in the structure and you knew that it was likely that someone was in the structure

In People v. Rivers, 2011 NY Slip Op 8455 (N.Y., 2011) defendant Sherman Rivers contracted to sell an apartment building for $300,000. The sale contract required that the building be free of tenants. In order to drive the tenants out of the building, Rivers paid others to set fires in the building. Rivers was convicted of arson in the first degree based on causing a structure to be damaged by fire with the expectation of pecuniary profit.

Related Offenses
  1. Arson in the Fifth Degree: New York Penal Law § 150.01
  2. Arson in the Fourth Degree: New York Penal Law § 150.05
  3. Arson in the Third Degree: New York Penal Law § 150.10
  4. Arson in the Second Degree: New York Penal Law § 150.15

If the arson in the first degree charge is based on someone suffering a serious physical injury, a possible defense would be based on the injuries suffered by the victim. Under New York Penal Law section 10.10(10), a serious physical injury is one that creates a substantial risk of death or causes protracted physical impairment. If you can show that the injury was not serious as defined by the statute, then the prosecutor would not be able to convict you of arson in the first degree.

One possible defense to a charge of arson in the first degree is that the fire was not set intentionally but accidentally. If the fire or explosion was indeed an accident, you cannot be convicted of arson in the third degree.


Arson in the first degree is one of the few crimes in New York that is a class A-I felony. If you are convicted you could spend the rest of your life in prison. The minimum sentence would be 15-40 years.

New York Penal Law § 150.20: Arson in the First Degree
  1. A person is guilty of arson in the first degree when he intentionally damages a building or motor vehicle by causing an explosion or a fire and when (a) such explosion or fire is caused by an incendiary device propelled, thrown or placed inside or near such building or motor vehicle; or when such explosion or fire is caused by an explosive; or when such explosion or fire either (i) causes serious physical injury to another person other than a participant, or (ii) the explosion or fire was caused with the expectation or receipt of financial advantage or pecuniary profit by the actor; and when (b) another person who is not a participant in the crime is present in such building or motor vehicle at the time; and (c) the defendant knows that fact or the circumstances are such as to render the presence of such person therein a reasonable possibility.

  2. As used in this section, "incendiary device" means a breakable container designed to explode or produce uncontained combustion upon impact, containing flammable liquid and having a wick or a similar device capable of being ignited.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

If you are convicted of arson in the first degree without doubt at a minimum you will spend several years in prison. However, just because you were charged with this crime does not mean that you will be convicted. There may be defenses that may result in the charges against you being dropped or reduced. Thus, it is important that you immediately seek experienced legal guidance. The staff at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates has years of experience successfully defending clients in New York criminal courts who have been charged with arson as well as other serious crimes such as sexual assault, rape, harassment, menacing, and reckless endangerment. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We serve those accused of larceny in the following locations: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Nassau County, Queens, Staten Island, Suffolk County and Westchester County.

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