First-Degree Arson

Criminal Defense Lawyer John L. Calcagni, III

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Under Rhode Island Criminal law, First-Degree Arson may be found under Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-4-2. This offense penalizes the conduct of knowingly and intentionally causing, procuring, aiding, counseling or creating a substantial risk of serious physical harm to any person or damage to any building by means of fire or explosion.  

First-Degree Arson is considered a capital felony, meaning it is punishable by up to life in prison. First-Degree Arson is one of the most serious crimes on the books.

Legal Elements of First-Degree Arson

In order to be convicted of First-Degree Arson under Rhode Island criminal law, there must exist strong evidence of the following legal elements:

  1. that the defendant caused, procured, aided, counseled or created a substantial risk of serious physical harm to any person or damage to any building
  2. that the defendant did so by means of fire or explosion
  3. the defendant did so knowingly and intentionally
  4. the building in question was either (a) occupied or in use for any purpose or which had been occupied or in use for any purpose during the previous six (6) months preceding the date of the offense, or (b) the building was a residential structure

What is Meant by Substantial Risk of Serious Physical Harm

For the purposes of First-Degree Arson under Rhode Island criminal law, a substantial or significant risk of serious physical harm must be proven.   This means there is a substantial risk of physical injury that either:

  1. creates a substantial risk of death
  2. causes protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily part member or organ
  3. causes serious permanent disfigurement

In an arson case, this element must be established by medical evidence, diagnosis or opinion. 

What Damage is Necessary for Arson

For the purposes of First-Degree Arson under Rhode Island criminal law, there must have been some type of “damage to a building” caused by the fire or explosion.  This means an existence of any charring, however slight, or wasting of the structure.   Total destruction of or heavy damage to the property is not required.   Actual visible flames are also not required.  The extent of damage is not required to prove First-Degree Arson, but it is a consideration that judges, and prosecutors take into account when sentencing convicted offenders.

Are Defendants Charged with First-Degree Arson Eligible for Bail

Under Rhode Island criminal law, all defendants charged with a crime have a general right to be released on bail. 

However, this general rule is not without exception.  Under Article I, Section 9 of the Rhode Constitution, where proof of guilt is evidence or the presumption of guilt of great for a crime punishable by up to life imprisonment, a defendant may be ordered held without bail while awaiting trial.  

First-Degree Arson is a capital offense that, upon conviction, provides for the possibility of life in jail.  Accordingly, defendants charged with this offense may be detained without bail.  If so, defendants are entitled to a bail hearing under Rhode Island criminal law and criminal procedure. 

Potential Punishment if Convicted of First-Degree Arson in Rhode Island

Under Rhode Island law, a conviction for First-Degree Arson is a capital felony for which convicted defendants shall be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than five (5) years and may be imprisoned for life.

Furthermore, whenever a death occurs to a person as a direct result of the defendant’s First-Degree Arson, a term of imprisonment shall not be for less than twenty (20) years. These penalties related to First Degree Arson may be found at Rhode Island General Laws, Section 11-4-2.


If you have been charged with First-Degree Arson and need representation, contact the Rhode Island Arson Lawyers of the Law Office of John L. Calcagni III by email or call today at (401) 351-5100 to schedule a free consultation.