At Meyer Van Severen, S.C. we take arson criminal defense seriously.
Obviously arson cases are serious. At the criminal defense law firm Meyer Van Severen, S.C. we provide the aggressive, intelligent criminal defense needed by individuals accused of this violent felony. Criminal defense attorneys Benjamin T. Van Severen and Matthew R. Meyer are top Wisconsin attorneys poised to defend you against any criminal charge. We believe that hiring the best Wisconsin criminal defense attorneys is crucial to success in your case. To speak to a top Milwaukee criminal defense attorney, contact our defense firm at (414) 270-0202 immediately.
What is arson?
Arson in Wisconsin is broken down into three separate charges. Arson of buildings; damage of property by explosives is one version. Secondly is arson of property other than building. Finally, arson with intent to defraud is the third version of Wisconsin arson. Below we explain all version of the crime:
Arson of buildings; damage of property by explosives
Section 943.02 of the Wisconsin Statutes prohibits arson of buildings and property damage caused by explosives. The statute indicates that this criminal charge is a Class C felony. It’s proven a few ways:
- By means of fire, the defendant intentionally damages any building of another without consent; or
- By means of fire, the defendant intentionally damages any building with intent to defraud an insurer of the building; or
- By means of explosives, the defendant intentionally damages any property of another without the owner’s consent.
Building of another means a building in which a person other than the actor has a legal or equitable interest which the actor has no right to defeat or impair, even though the actor may also have a legal or equitable interest in the building.
An insurance policy isn’t a defense to this crime. If the defendant recovered on an insurance policy connected to the building, there’s not immunity. The focus is still on whether someone other than the defendant had a legal/equitable interest in the property.
Section 943.02(1)(a) – Wisconsin JI-Crim 1404
As with all crimes, this one has certain elements that need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to prove “by means of fire, the defendant intentionally damages any building of another without consent” is prohibited in section 943.02(1)(a). The elements are provided in Wisconsin Jury Instruction – Criminal 1404:
- The defendant intentionally damaged a building by means of fire; and
- The building belonged to another person; and
- The defendant damages the building without the owner’s consent; and
- The defendant knew that the building belonged to another person and knew that the other person did not consent to the damage.
“Damage means injured, charred, defaced, and includes smoke damage.
Section 943.02(1)(a) is the traditional crime we think of when discussing arson. The defendant intentionally damaged, with fire, the building of another. Certainly the victim did not consent. In a traditional criminal case, this is the statute an individual is charged with.
What’s a building?
It sounds like a simple question. But litigants, attorneys, and courts have struggled with this term since 1887, in Clark v. State, 69 Wis. 203, 33 N.W. 436 (1887). Clark dealt with an old burglary case. The question was whether an unfinished house was a “building” for purposes of burglary. The Clark court stated:
… an edifice or structure erected upon land, and so far completed that may be used temporarily or permanently for the occupation or shelter of man or best, or for the storage of tools or other personal property for safe-keeping … ‘The well-understood meaning of the word is a structure which has a capacity to contain, and is designed for the habitation of man or animals, or the sheltering of property.’
More recently, in State v. Kuntz, 160 Wis.2d 722, 467 N.W.2d 531 (1991), the court of appeals decided that a “mobile home” is a building. The court indicated:
We conclude that no rational juror could find that the structure in question was a mobile home without also finding that the structure was a building … If the jury found this structure to be a mobile home, as that term is commonly understood, this finding would be the ‘functional equivalent’ of finding that the structure was a building.
Litigating issues like is sometimes crucial to your defense. While the average criminal defense attorney may not be interested in litigating the definition of the term “arson,” we do. Certainly our arson defense attorneys are incredibly thorough in providing the best criminal defense in Wisconsin.
Section 943.02(1)(b) – Wisconsin JI-Crim 1405
This is the other version of this crime people often consider. It deals with arson committed to defraud and insurer. Wisconsin Jury Instruction Criminal 1405 provides the elements:
- The defendant intentionally damages a building by means of fire; and
- The defendant damages the building with intent to defraud an insurer of that building.
The instruction goes on: The intent to defraud is the mental purpose to deceive an insurer of the building, and thereby induce and insurer to make a payment under a fire insurance policy. This intent must have been formed at some time before the fire started and must have continued to exist at the time the fire started.
Arson committed to scam an insurance company is something we frequently see in the news. Surely we read about it in the newspaper.
What is damage?
This one seems pretty obvious. But, what qualifies as damage? How much of the building needs to be burned?
The word “damage” includes, in addition to what is thought of as damage in a narrow sense, anything from mere defacement and mutilation to total desctruction.” 1953 Judiciary Committee Report on the Criminal Code, p. 97 (Wis. Legislative Council, 1953). It’s clear that the bar for “damage” is incredibly low.
Damage of property by explosives
Unfortunately, not all crimes have jury instructions. Section 943.02(1)(c) of the Wisconsin Statutes prohibits damage of property by explosives. This prohibition is incredibly similar to 943.02(1)(a), which we discussed above. We think the following jury instructions are appropriate:
- The defendant intentionally damaged property by means of explosives; and
- The property belonged to another person; and
- The defendant damages the property without consent of the victim; and
- The defendant knew that the property belonged to another person and knew that the person did not consent to the damage.
Obviously we’ve changed the terms in bold. We switched building and property. We switched fire to explosives. Considering the other statutory language exactly matches, the proposed instruction makes sense.