Over 200 people were arrested over the weekend in Cincinnati. The majority of the arrestees were young, local, and committed minor infractions. However, a few were charged with serious offenses, including arson.
Under Ohio law, arson is a first degree misdemeanor, meaning a person so charged faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted of the offense.
Ohio law defines misdemeanor arson in one of two ways: when a person by means of fire or explosion, knowingly causes or creates a substantial risk of physical harm to either: 1) any property of another without the other person’s consent; or 2) any structure of another that is not an occupied structure.
Arson can, however, be elevated to a fourth degree felony in various ways. One of these ways include if the property itself or the physical harm involved to the property is valued at $1,000 or more. It can also be elevated to a fourth degree felony where the property at issue is a building or structure owned or controlled by the government, including statehouses, courthouses, school buildings, etc.
Yesterday, a Tennessee protestor made national news after he was arrested for allegedly setting fire to a Nashville courthouse. His wife said she was with him at the time and their intent was to protest peacefully. However, she said, “[E]verything started going bad and he got caught up in it with the adrenaline and stuff.” She further explained, “He didn’t start those fires. He put two posters in the fire because it was already started and then we left…what he did was wrong but he didn’t start them so I think his charges should be lesser.” The story can be read here.
If the man was charged in Ohio, he would be facing up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine because the property at issue is a government building. It will be no surprise when his attorney argues he did not start the fire-however, if Tennessee’s arson law is anything like Ohio’s, the prosecutor would likely argue that fact is irrelevant; the fact he created a substantial risk to the courthouse by enhancing the fire with the two posters he placed in the fire to expand it and exacerbate its effects is sufficient for a guilty finding.
Defendants charged with arson may want to sing Billy Joel’s tune, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” but in Ohio, such a theory may not provide the best arson defense depending on the circumstances.
This story highlights the fact it is easy to get carried away in these types of situations and to be extremely cautious and careful when protesting. Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima encourages everyone to exercise their First Amendment Rights but to be safe when doing so.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime stemming from a protest, do not hesitate to contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima at our office for a free consultation.