Chicago Arson on Federal Property Criminal Defense Attorney

The act of intentionally setting fire to a building, structure, or other property is known as arson. When this crime occurs on federal property or involves federal assets, it is treated as a federal offense and prosecuted under U.S. federal law. This article aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of federal arson charges related to federal property, including key statutes, penalties, and defense strategies.

Federal Statutes Governing Arson

The most relevant federal statutes for arson on federal property include:

  1. 18 U.S.C. § 81 – Arson Within Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction: This statute makes it illegal to set fire to any building, structure, or vessel within federal jurisdiction. Violators may face a fine, imprisonment for up to 25 years, or both.
  2. 18 U.S.C. § 844(f) – Malicious Damage or Destruction by Fire or Explosive: This statute criminalizes arson that affects federally-owned or federally-controlled property. The penalties include fines and imprisonment for up to 20 years for property damage and possible life imprisonment if the arson results in death.
  3. 18 U.S.C. § 1153 – Offenses Committed Within Indian Country: Arson committed in Native American territories might also be prosecuted under federal law.

Penalties for Arson on Federal Property

Financial Penalties

Convictions can result in substantial fines, often running into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, to compensate for the damages caused.


As noted above, arson on federal property can lead to a maximum of 25 years in prison under 18 U.S.C. § 81, and up to 20 years under 18 U.S.C. § 844(f). If the act leads to loss of life, life imprisonment is possible under 18 U.S.C. § 844(f).

Other Consequences

Apart from imprisonment and fines, the individual might face additional penalties such as forfeiture of property, restitution to the victims, and a permanent criminal record, which can severely limit employment opportunities.

Legal defenses against federal arson charges can include:

  1. Lack of Intent: A key element in arson is the “intent” to commit the act. If it can be shown that the fire was accidental, it could serve as a defense.
  2. Insufficient Evidence: Prosecution needs to provide sufficient evidence linking the defendant to the crime. Weak or circumstantial evidence can be grounds for defense.
  3. Alibi: If the defendant can prove they were elsewhere when the arson occurred, this can serve as a solid defense.
  4. Mistaken Identity: If someone else committed the crime and the defendant was wrongfully identified, proving this could lead to a not-guilty verdict.

Arson on federal property is a grave offense with severe penalties, including hefty fines and long-term imprisonment. Given the complexities involved in such cases, it is crucial to consult experienced legal experts when facing federal arson charges.

Prosecution Process and Burden of Proof

Prosecuting arson on federal property involves several critical steps, each with its unique challenges and requirements.

  1. Initial Investigation: Federal agencies such as the FBI or ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) usually lead investigations involving federal property. Local law enforcement may assist but federal agencies typically take the lead due to the nature of the jurisdiction.
  2. Arrest and Charges: Once enough evidence has been gathered, law enforcement agencies may make an arrest. This is followed by the formal filing of charges by the federal prosecutor, or U.S. Attorney.
  3. Preliminary Hearing or Grand Jury: Before going to trial, a preliminary hearing might occur to establish whether sufficient evidence exists for the case to move forward. Alternatively, a grand jury may be convened to decide whether to issue an indictment.
  4. Trial: If the case goes to trial, the prosecution must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime, adhering to all elements defined by the federal statutes. This often includes proving that the defendant acted intentionally and that the property in question is federally owned or controlled.

Elements of the Crime

To secure a conviction, the prosecution needs to establish specific elements that are often outlined in the federal statutes. For instance, under 18 U.S.C. § 844(f):

  • Intent: The individual acted maliciously.
  • Act: The individual used fire or explosives.
  • Federal Property: The property is owned or possessed by, or leased to, the United States, or any department or agency thereof.

Enhancements and Aggravating Factors

Certain circumstances can exacerbate the severity of the charges and subsequent penalties. These may include:

  1. Use of Explosives: If the arson involved the use of explosives, this could lead to additional federal charges and penalties.
  2. Endangering Life: If the act put human life in jeopardy, whether or not anyone was actually injured, this could significantly enhance the sentence.
  3. Prior Criminal Record: A defendant’s criminal history could serve as an aggravating factor, resulting in harsher penalties.

Constitutional and Civil Rights Concerns

When dealing with federal arson charges, the constitutional rights of the defendant must be safeguarded. Violations such as illegal search and seizure or coerced confessions can lead to the dismissal of evidence or the entire case. Hence, an experienced attorney will scrutinize the procedural aspects of the case to ensure the defendant’s rights are protected.

High-Profile Cases and Public Perception

Arson on federal property often garners significant media attention, especially if the property is of national importance like a federal courthouse or a national park. Public perception can play a role in the prosecution and sentencing phases, and defendants often have to manage not just legal but also reputational risks.

Given the complexities and severe consequences associated with federal arson charges, it’s imperative to seek experienced legal counsel. Lawyers specialized in felony federal criminal law can navigate the labyrinthine federal statutes, precedent cases, and rules of evidence to build a robust defense.

Facing charges for arson on federal property is a grave matter. Understanding the relevant federal statutes, the prosecution process, and potential defense strategies can be a lifeline for those caught in such a predicament. However, given the life-altering consequences, immediate and expert legal assistance is crucial for anyone facing federal arson charges.

Aggressive Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyer with Decades of Experience

Over the past two decades, David L. Freidberg has gained a dearth of knowledge on the Illinois Compiled Statutes Criminal Code, evidence, rules of criminal procedure, and the U.S. Constitution. David L. Freidberg strives to combine his training, experience, skills, and passion for serving vulnerable communities to provide clients with unparalleled representation. To schedule a free consultation, contact The Law Offices of David L. Freidberg 24/7 at (312) 560-7100 or toll free at (800) 803-1442.

Contact Us

  1. 1 Available 24/7
  2. 2 Free Consultation
  3. 3 Effective and Persuasive Defense
Fill out the contact form or call us at (312) 560-7100 or (800) 803-1442 to schedule your free consultation.

Leave Us a Message