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Dissecting the Elements of Residential Arson in Virginia


Arson is a felony crime in Virginia that involves the use of fire or explosives to cause harmful damage. This offense comes in many different forms, depending on the location of the offense and various other factors. A common form of this crime is sometimes referred to as residential arson.

Residential arson means the use of fire or explosives to damage a property where people typically live or sleep. Whether the property was occupied or unoccupied at the time of the offense, residential arson charges can still apply. The criminal punishment for residential arson of occupied properties, though, is much more severe than those of unoccupied properties.

Virginia Definition of Residential Arson

Code of Virginia Section 18.2-77 provides the definition of arson under state law. It is considered arson if a person maliciously:

  • Burns a property or causes it to be burned, in whole or in part;
  • Uses explosives to destroy a property or causes it to be destroyed, in whole or in part; or
  • Aids, counsels, or otherwise assists with the burning or destruction of a property.

Section 18.2-77 outlines the following types of properties as potential arson targets, particularly when occupied:

  • Dwelling houses;
  • Churches or church properties;
  • Manufactured homes;
  • Hotels;
  • Hospitals;
  • Mental health facilities;
  • Railroad cars;
  • Boats;
  • Vessels;
  • River craft;
  • Jails or prisons; or
  • Other places in which people usually live or sleep.

In this context, Virginia law attributes specific meanings to the terms “dwelling house” and “church.” First, Code of Virginia Section 18.2-78 provides several exceptions to the term dwelling house. More specifically, “dwelling house” does not include outhouses that are separated from the main residence.

Second, Code of Virginia Section 18.2-127 outlines a specific definition of what qualifies as a church. Under this section, a church refers to any place of worship. Church property refers to buildings and centers owned or leased by churches.

Virginia Penalties for Residential Arson

Section 18.2-77 also explains the Virginia penalties for arson offenses. The punishment, though, can vary based on whether the property in question was occupied or unoccupied at the time of the offense.

If the property was occupied when arson occurred, it is a felony in Virginia. Any person convicted for this felony can face fines up to $100,000 and a prison sentence of five years to life.

If the property was unoccupied when arson occurred, it is a Class 4 felony in Virginia. Any person convicted for this felony can face fines up to $100,000 and a prison sentence between two and 10 years.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you need legal assistance with criminal charges for arson or other crimes under Virginia law, it can be tremendously helpful to consult with an adroit criminal defense lawyer. The Leesburg felony & misdemeanor lawyers at Simms Showers LLP understand the nuances of constructing an effective defense in criminal cases, including offenses like arson. If you need legal help with criminal defense, contact us today for a free initial consultation.

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Contact the Leesburg, Winchester & Loudoun County Attorneys of Simms Showers LLP today

Simms Showers LLP is conveniently located two blocks from the Loudoun County Courthouse. Our criminal defense firm offers a free phone consultation for criminal or personal injury cases. Se habla español. Call Simms Showers LLP for quality legal counsel today at 703-997-7821 or contact us online.

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