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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2013 - 2014 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: May 10, 2013 03:19 PM
From: Senator John C. Rafferty, Jr.
To: All Senate members
Subject: Arson- Increasing penalties
 
In the very near future, I plan to re-introduce legislation (SB903) which creates a sentencing enhancement for our most serious Arson offenses and creates the new offense of Aggravated Arson. This legislation was amended last session with the help of numerous stakeholders and I plan to introduce the final version of the bill that passed the Senate by a vote of 47-2.

This legislation was drafted in response to a series of arsons in the City of Coatesville during 2007 through 2009. During this time, over fifty arson fires resulted in the arrest of five adults and one juvenile. While all of these individuals were convicted, sentence imposed by the court were limited by the language in the arson statutes and the applicable sentencing guidelines.

The Crimes Code classifies arson as a property crime. Therefore, courts do not treat the crime as seriously as violent crimes such as robbery or aggravated assault. However, it is my belief that each of these crimes was indeed the equivalent of a crime of violence.

Each fire occurred between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m. Every fire was set to a home. In almost every case, residents of Coatesville were home when the arsonist struck. One victim died. Every fire required firefighters to respond to the scene. At least three firefighters were injured fighting these fires and hundreds were placed in immediate danger. One fire destroyed more than 15 homes and endangered over 80 residents who were home at the time. The entire city was terrorized.

The most serious offense available was one count of arson under 18 Pa.C.S. section 3301(a)(1)(i). The sentencing guidelines called for a 22 month sentence for each fire. One small fire only involving minor property damage was treated the same as a fire that destroyed 15 homes, cost $2 million and endangered hundreds of lives. Moreover, the judge was free to impose concurrent sentences for these two separate offenses.

My legislation would establish the following:

  1. Create the offense of aggravated arson which would carry a grading of a felony of the first degree if the fire is set with intent to cause bodily injury bodily injury to another person including a firefighter, police officer or emergency responder, of if the person sets the fire and a person is present in the property. Additionally, the offense would be graded as a second degree felony if the intent was not to cause bodily injury, but the fire resulted in the death of any person. Furthermore, if the intent was to cause bodily injury and resulted in the death of a person, then the perpetrator could be charged with murder of the first degree.

  1. Create a sentencing enhancement for arson in the following situations:

  1. Results in serious bodily injury to responding emergency service personnel;

  1. Results in bodily injury to a civilian;

  1. More than three people were present inside the property at the time of the offense and;

  1. The fire caused more than $1,000,000 in property damage



Introduced as SB1024