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Legality of Arson Investigation Explained

  • January 03, 2008
  • by PInow Staff

Each state has various guidelines for what constitutes arson. In general, however, arson can be separated into two categories:

Felony arson

The knowing and willful burning of another person's property.

Misdemeanor arson

Reckless or negligent burning which destroys property, even though there is no overt intent to destroy.

Some researchers have found that arson may be involved in as many as 25% of the fires in the United States. Despite this, successful prosecution in cases of arson is quite rare. 15% of urban arson cases and 23% of rural arson cases are successfully prosecuted. In many cases, even when evidence is very strong, investigations are found to violate a suspect's Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment and deemed illegal. Even when these investigations yield evidence that is vital for a case, if the data is gathered incorrectly it is inadmissible in court.

To make matters even more confusing, the guidelines that fire investigators must follow are different for firefighters, government officials and private investigators. Private fire investigators often approach a case once firefighters arrive. Firefighters often gather useful information, such as evidence of accelerants, smoke color, area first burned and damage incurred. This information is very important to private fire investigators, who usually do not arrive until much later. In virtually all cases, investigative professionals read the official report prepared by the firefighters and also interview the firefighters who were first on the scene.

Private investigators do have some leeway. A number of state courts have found that physical evidence gathered by a private investigator is admissible in arson cases and does not violate Fourth Amendment rights when the search is legally conducted. Furthermore, a private fire investigator conducts a fire investigation as a private citizen and is therefore not bound by guidelines pertaining to the Fourth Amendment in the same way that government officials are.

The complicated state laws surrounding fire investigations make it imperative that anyone needing a fire investigation conducted seek out a qualified, experienced private fire investigator. This is the only way to ensure that your case does not become part of the grim statistics concerning unprosecuted arson.

Arson investigations are extremely complex, and finding someone who is experienced can be difficult. To find a qualified arson investigator, visit PInow.com.


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