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Unlawfully Causing a Burn or Fire

PC 452 Crimes

Information on the crime of unlawfully causing a burn or fire, also called reckless burning, is found at California penal code section 452. The main difference between reckless burning and arson is that arson is willful burning and reckless burning is about gross negligence.


PC 452: It is illegal to unlawfully cause a fire by recklessly burning or setting fire to any structure, forest land or property (Abbrev.).
The term reckless means the defendant acted with gross negligence to a degree that he or she should have known that his or her conduct would likely lead to a burn or fire.
For example, pouring gasoline on a fire pit that is located close to a building is subjectively dangerous and if the fire pit fire spreads to burn the nearby building the defendant will likely be charged with reckless burning, even though the defendant did not intent to burn the nearby building.
PC 452(a) Unlawfully causing a fire that results in great bodily injury (GBI): Charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor. When PC 452(a) is charged as a felony the defendant may face up to six years in prison. When PC 452(a) is charged as a misdemeanor the defendant may face up to one year in the county jail
PC 452(b) Unlawfully causing a fire resulting in an inhabited property or structure to burn: Charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor. When PC 452(b) is charged as a felony, the defendant may face up to four years in prison. When PC 452(b) is charged a a misdemeanor the defendant may face up to one year in the county jail.
PC 452(c) Unlawfully causing a fire of a structure or forest land: Charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor. When PC 452(c) is charged as a felony the defendant may face up to three years in prison. When PC 452(c) is charged as a misdemeanor the defendant may face up to one hundred eighty days in the county jail.
PC 452(d) Unlawfully causing a fire of property: Charged as a misdemeanor with a possible jail sentence of up to one year. This crime does not apply to burning personal property that belongs to the defendant so long as no person is injured; however, other crimes could apply, such as insurance fraud or a violation of municipal laws that restrict burning.
Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is period of supervision as opposed to an actual prison sentence. Probation is allowed in some PC 452 crimes, including the most commonly charged crime of unlawfully causing a fire resulting in an inhabited property or structure to burn (PC 452(b)). A probation sentence is not guaranteed and usually and alternative jail sentence is ordered in probation cases, such as house arrest or or work release. Other conditions of probation would apply and the probation sentence and terms are monitored by a probation officer in felony cases.
PC 1170(h): If the defendant is not granted a probation sentence in a felony PC 452 case, then the defendant must serve his incarceration in a state prison, as opposed to a local county jail. Also, Prison sentences related to PC 452 crimes may not be split (served partially out of custody on work release), or suspended (not served subject to a violation of an out of custody release condition).
Three Strikes Law: PC 452(b) and 452(d) are not considered strike offenses in per California's Three Strikes Law. However, unlawful burning or setting a fire that results in injury could be considered a strike crime as that crime is considered serious.
CIMT: Reckless burning crimes can be considered crimes involving moral turpitude, which means the crimes are considered inherently bad or involve deceit. Crimes involving moral turpitude carry collateral consequences for non US citizens and licensed professionals. A CIMT might be avoidable if the record of conviction demonstrates no injury to a person and no willful act,
Additional penalties include: fines and court fees, criminal protective orders, restitution for damage to property and persons, denial of entry into the United States Armed Service Army, Space Force, Marines, Air Force, etc.), loss of the right to own or possess firearms. and more.
Common defenses used in reckless burning cases include: insufficient evidence (especially as to the source of the fire), emergency, alibi, illegal search and seizure, statute of limitations (3 years in felony cases and 1 year in misdemeanor cases), and more. 

If you have been arrested or charged with the unlawfully causing a burn or fire, or PC 452, contact out criminal defense lawyers today for a free consultation. Our criminal defense lawyers are always available to explain your rights and defenses options. Call today!


Quick Reference​ Sheet

Crime: Unlawful Burning of a Structure

Code: PC452(b) (CalCrim No. 1531 & 1532)

Wobbler: Yes. PC 452(b) is a wobbler crime. This means that PC 452(b) may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor.

Incarceration:Felony PC 452(b) prison sentence range: 2, 3, or 4 years (if probation not granted). Misdemeanor jail sentence up to 1 year.

Probation: Probation is allowed in PC 452(b) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by the court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.​

PC 1170(h)): No. PC 452(b) is not subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. This means that any incarceration ordered after a conviction, that is not part of a probation sentence, must be served in state prison (as opposed to county jail), and the prison sentence may not be split or suspended.

Strike: PC 452(b) is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.

Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.

CIMT: PC 452(b) is likely a crime involving moral turpitude, which means that an arrest or conviction could lead to the following:

  • Immigration problems

  • Professional Licensing problems

  • Impeachment on credibility


Firearms: Felony PC 452(b) convictions prohibit a defendant from owning or possessing a firearm.

Bail: $25,000 (San Bernardino County)

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