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The suspected arsonist is believed to be connected with at least 53 fires that have been reported since Thursday, December 29. Eleven fires were reported on the morning of Monday, January 2 alone, and the majority of them were started in the city of Los Angeles. Officials say the fires caused at least $3 million in damage to vehicles and structures, and the city spent considerable money shifting officers into the area to capture the arsonist.
A deputy reserve sheriff made the initial traffic stop that led to the arrest of the suspect. Materials that could have been used to set fires were found by detectives inside the suspect’s minivan. “I feel very good that we’ve got the right guy,” said Police Chief Charlie Beck.” (The suspect) had the right stuff in his van, and we are very confident we found our man.”
According to police information, Burkhart was a 24-year-old German national who carried travel papers from Chechnya. He had spent time in Germany but had lived in Southern California for the last several years. While the investigation remains ongoing, reports have surfaced that Burkhart may have been upset over his mother’s potential deportation.
Burkhart was originally scheduled to be arraigned in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday afternoon, but the arraignment was postponed until January 24. Burkhart’s bail was set at $2.85 million and he was ordered to surrender his passport. Until a suspect is formally charged, Los Angeles residents have been warned to keep a closer watch on their own and their neighbor’s property, and to report any suspicious activity to police.
Under California law, arson can be considered a felony that carries severe punishments depending on the damage caused. Although, no one has been hurt by the fires, there has been widespread damage to vehicles and structures, and Burkhart was booked on suspicion of arson of an inhabited dwelling.
Below is an example of the types of penalties and punishment you may face if you are convicted under California’s arson laws.
- Informal probation
- Up to one year in a county jail, and/or
- A fine of up to $1,000.
- 16 months to nine years in the California State Prison (16 months to three years in the state prison if convicted of attempted arson)
- Up to $50,000 in fines, or twice the amount of an actual or anticipated gain (if the prosecutor proves that you set the fire for financial gain), and
- A possible strike on your criminal record under California’s Three Strikes Law. (This penalty only applies if you are convicted of malicious arson under Penal Code 451 PC
“Aggravated” instances of arson will be punished even more severely than “typical” felony arson charges. You face an additional and consecutive sentence of one to five years in the California State Prison if any of the following circumstances exist:
- You have a prior felony conviction for malicious or reckless arson under either Penal Code 451 or 452 PC,
- A firefighter, officer, or other emergency personnel suffers great bodily injury (defined as a significant or substantial physical injury) as a result of the offense, (for a more detailed discussion, visit our page on the legal definition of great bodily injury)
- You caused multiple structures to burn, or
- In the commission of the offense, you used a device to accelerate the fire or to delay ignition.
Because the punishment and penalties are so severe for an arson conviction, it is critical to secure legal representation from a skilled California criminal defense lawyer. He or she understands the many defenses that may cause arson or reckless burning charges to be reduced or even dismissed. If you’re facing arson charges or any other serious criminal offense, contact the Orange County Criminal Law firm of Don Ho, LLP immediately for assistance on building your defense.
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