The crime of arson is generally the intentional setting on fire or bombing of the building or real property of another. The least serious arson charge in New York state is arson in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor charge. Arson in first through fourth degrees are all felony charges with differing punishments.
First degree arson is the most serious, being a Class A-1 felony that involves specific intent with malice. It may involve injury to innocent victims, committing arson for monetary compensation, or the knowledge that innocent persons will likely be in the targeted building. The New York State Police recently arrested a 54-year-old man from Pittsfield, MA, on fourth-degree arson charges. The charges involve a fire that destroyed the New York State Thruway Larchmont salt shed.
Fourth-degree arson is a class E felony in which the perpetrator “recklessly damages” a building or motor vehicle of another by “intentionally” starting a fire or causing an explosion. The accused is reportedly an electrician for the Thruway Authority who was allegedly at the salt shed after work when the fire started. The fire ultimately destroyed the shed and some heavy equipment.
The details of what he allegedly did to cause a fire have not yet been revealed. It appears, however, that the arson subsection chosen for this prosecution reveals a prosecutorial belief that the accused did not have a subjective intent to start a fire or to bring about these destructive circumstances. At the same time, the criminal provision chosen by the prosecutor is arguably constitutionally infirm due to the incompatible joining of recklessness and intentional behavior to arrive at a result that is at best muddled.
The accused appears to be facing New York state felony charges and a conviction for purportedly reckless behavior. Strangely, the statute ambiguously requires not just recklessness but also that he acted intentionally. This may be an impossibly confusing combination of terms in a serious felony prosecution. One caveat to the foregoing analysis: it may or may not hold up to scrutiny when the detailed facts and allegations are made public.
Source: hudsonvalleynewsnetwork.com, “Man Arrested for Setting Fire to NYS Thruway Building Hudson Valley News Network“, Kathy Welsh, Aug. 19, 2015