Iowa Arson Defense

Nobody trusts an arsonist. If you're the sort of person who burns things down when they don't get their way or if you can't manage not to blow things up, people aren't likely to want you around. You could lose your job and have difficulty finding another one. You could lose your social connections and end up a pariah. If you're accused of being a firebug, you need an Iowa arson defense lawyer to try to clear your name.

Des Moines Arson Lawyers

Remember that in order to convict you, the prosecutors have to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt — including the intent or “mens rea” element.

At Clark and Sears Law, PLLC, we defend the rights and liberties of good people who are accused of bad things. An Iowa arson lawyer might be able to find you a viable path to reasonable doubt, thus saving you from paying thousands in fines and restitution and spending time locked up away from your family.

Get out of trouble and get back to life. Call Clark and Sears Law, PLLC now at (515) 491 6128 to set up a free consultation. A receptionist is available 24/7 to take your call.

The criminal defense lawyers at Clark and Sears Law, PLLC, are based in the city of Des Moines and in Ankeny and represent defendants throughout Polk County and the rest of Iowa.

Arson in Iowa

Iowa Code Chapter 712 is about arson.

If you burn stuff down or blow it up, that's arson.

There's a common misconception that arson just involves burning down buildings. As was noted in the well-known case of one gentleman who burned a stolen flag and was convicted of arson, though, the property at issue doesn't have to be a building.

You can be charged with arson if you:

  • Cause a fire intending to damage or destroy property
  • Cause an explosion intending to damage or destroy property
  • Place any burning material in or near property with the intent to destroy or damage the property (or while knowing that the property will probably be destroyed or damaged)
  • Place any incendiary or explosive device or material in or near property with the intent to destroy or damage the property (or while knowing that the property will probably be destroyed or damaged)
  • Cause a fire or explosion that damages or destroys property while manufacturing or trying to manufacture drugs. For controlled substance arson:
    • Even if the owner of the property that you knowingly endangered consented to what you were doing, it's arson.
    • Even if you did it in a way that doesn't unreasonably endanger anyone's life or property, it's arson.
    • Even if you didn't fraudulently claim damages under an insurance policy, it's arson.

Degrees of arson in Iowa

Iowa arson charges come in three degrees. Depending on the property that's at issue, the foreseeability of people being around, and whether a fire fighter dies, you could face misdemeanor or felony charges.

Arson in the First Degree

If one or more people can be reasonably anticipated to be present in or near the property you burn, you will be charged with first-degree arson. You will also be charged with first degree arson if a fire fighter dies.

If you are convicted of Iowa Arson in the First Degree, you are guilty of a Class B felony and will be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

Arson in the Second Degree

If no one can be reasonably expected to be in or near the property and the arson doesn't result in the death of a firefighter, then the crime is second-degree arson if it involves burning or blowing up:

  • A building or a structure
  • Real property of any kind
  • Standing crops
  • Personal property worth $750.01 or more

Second degree arson is a Class C felony. You could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. For second degree arson committed after July 15, 2020, the minimum fine is $1370 and the maximum fine is $13,660. Fines are subject to a 15% crime services surcharge.

For second degree arson offenses committed before July 15, 2020, fines are $1000-$10,000 and subject to a 35% criminal penalty surcharge.

Arson in the Third Degree

Any arson that isn't first degree or second degree is third degree arson. Third-degree arson is an aggravated misdemeanor. You could face up to 2 years in prison. For offenses committed after July 15, 2020, the minimum fine is $855 and the maximum fine is $8,540. Criminal fines are subject to a 15% crime services surcharge.

For offenses committed before July 15, 2020, fines are $625-$6250. Instead of the 15% crime services surcharge, there is a 35% criminal penalty surcharge.

Penalties for arson in Iowa

If you're convicted of or plead guilty to Iowa arson, you will face fines and/or jail time for an aggravated misdemeanor, a class C felony, or a class B felony.

  • Aggravated Misdemeanor for 3rd degree arson: Up to 2 years in prison. Fine of $855 - $8540. $625 to $6,250. 15% crime services surcharge. 35% criminal penalty surcharge.
  • Class C Felony for 2nd degree arson: Up to 5 years in prison. Fine of $1370 - $13,660. $1000 to $10,000. 15% crime services surcharge. 35% criminal penalty surcharge.
  • Class B Felony for 1st degree arson: Up to 25 years in prison.

If you get a deferred judgment instead of a conviction, you will pay a civil penalty instead of a fine. Civil penalties in the same amounts as criminal fines — for instance, if you get a deferred judgment on third degree arson in Iowa, you might be ordered to pay a civil penalty of $855 instead of getting a criminal fine for $855. There’s no additional 35% 15% surcharge for civil penalties, though. In this example, the lack of a criminal penalty crime services surcharge saves you $128.25.

If you are placed on probation, there will be a $300 probation supervision fee.

You should expect to pay restitution for any damages you cause.

The county attorney might ask for the judge to order you to perform community service hours. You may be required to pay a placement fee to be placed into a local community service program.

You need to talk to city of West Des Moines arsonist lawyers if you’re facing criminal charges.

Habitual offender enhancement for arson

Second degree arson is a class C felony. If you've been convicted of two or more felonies before in Iowa, in any other state, or in the United States, you are considered a habitual offender.

Your 2nd-degree arson conviction will be subject to up to 15 years in prison instead of up to 5. (Iowa Code 902.9) Additionally, you will have to spend a minimum sentence of three years in prison before being eligible for parole.


If you’re convicted of a crime causing injury or property damage in Iowa, you probably owe victim restitution.

The Court will establish a plan of restitution.

You probably already know that if you are convicted of arson, you will have to repay the person whose property you injured. You may be surprised to find out that you may also have to pay fines, civil penalties, and surcharges. Additionally, you may have to:

  • Reimburse the crime victim restitution program.
  • Contribute funds to a local anticrime organization that helped the police in your case.
  • Pay back any public agency that incurred costs in an emergency response if you were convicted or received a deferred judgment on a DUI.
    • Public agencies include fire fighting, law enforcement, ambulance, medical, or other emergency services. You can be directed to pay up to $500 to each public agency that responded.
  • Pay court costs and correctional fees.
  • Pay court-appointed attorney fees, including the expense of a public defender.
  • Perform public service or community service if you can’t reasonably pay all or part of the court costs

Your payments have to go to the victims’ restitution order first, before your payments count toward fines, penalties, surcharges, crime victime compensation program reimbursement, public agency reimbursement, court costs, correctional fees, court-appointed attorney fees, expenses of a public defender, or contributions to local anti-crime organizations.

If the court orders you to pay restitution, your victim may file a restitution lien. Even though your victim will be granted a right to victim restitution for what your crime cost them, that victim restitution doesn’t prevent them from being able to sue you for damages in a separate civil action.

Iowa Code 915.100

Iowa charges related to arson

There are fire crimes other than arson. Misdemeanor or felony fire charges come with heavy penalties.

Reckless use of fire or explosives

Using fire, an incentiary device or material, or an explosive device or material in a way that recklessly endangers the property or safety of another is a serious misdemeanor under Iowa Code 712.5.

Reckless use of fire is punished by up to 1 year in jail and a fine of $315 to $1,875 $430 to $2,560. (July 15, 2020).

Possession of explosive or incendiary materials or devices

Possessing incendiary or explosive devices or materials is a class C felony if you intend to use them to commit a public offense. This is punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of $750 to $7,500 $1,370 - $13,660. (July 15, 2020)

Possessing an incendiary or explosive device or material without the intent to commit a public offense is an aggravated misdemeanor. An aggravated misdemeanor is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines of $625 to $6,250 $855 - $8,540. (July 15, 2020)

Criminal annoyance

If you put a fake explosive or a fake incendiary device in or near an occupied structure and you intend to intimidate, alarm, or annoy someone, it's a serious misdemeanor.

Houses aren't the only occupied structures that count. Occupied structures include any buildings, structures, vehicles, or places adapted for sleeping in at night, for carrying on business in, or for safekeeping anything of value in. Nobody has to be present for a structure to count as an "occupied structure." Boxes, chests, and safes that are designed to store valuable things but that are too small for people to go into or occupy aren't occupied structures.

Intimidation with fire is punished by up to 1 year in jail and a fine of $315 to $1,875 $430 - $2,560. (July 15, 2020)

False reports

Fake bomb threats are class D felonies. If you give someone false information about the placement of any destructive substance or device in a place where people or property would be endangered, you could face up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $750 to $7,500 $1,025 - $10,245. (July 15, 2020)

Iowa bomb threats

Threatening to put a bomb or any destructive substance, device, or material in a place where it will endanger people or property is a class D felony. Similarly, attempting to place a bomb somewhere that people or property could be injured is a class D felony. You could face up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $750 to $7,500 $1,025 - $10,245. (July 15, 2020)

Defenses to Iowa City Arson

The government's lawyer has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you're guilty of all elements of arson. If they can't do that, you get acquitted. If you're acquitted, you're not guilty. If you're not guilty, you go home.

Some possible arson defenses include:


Did the property you owned or endangered belong to you?

As long as you aren't committing any other crimes, you can burn your own stuff. Otherwise, every summer BBQ where you caused a fire near the property of a hamburger with the intent to char it would be an act of arson.


Did the property owner consent to your acts? If no insurer was fraudulently exposed to risk and you didn't do the act in a way that unreasonably endangered someone else's life or property, the act isn't arson.

Mistaken Identity

If your evil twin brother was the arsonist, you shouldn't be convicted of his offense.


If you can prove that you were somewhere else, then you couldn't have committed the crime.


If your deranged or diseased mental condition prevents you from knowing the nature or quality of your acts, you are criminally insane. Similarly, if your deranged or diseased mental state makes you incapable of distinguishing fight from wrong, you are considered legally insane.

If you were insane at the time of the offense, then you will be found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI) rather than convicted.

Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure

The First Amendment is my best friend and sometimes-savior but I also really, really love the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment, with some specific and well-delineated exceptions, guards you from warrantless searches and seizures. If your stolen property lawyer can show the court that you were the victim of an illegal search and seizure, the evidence in your case could get suppressed. If enough evidence gets suppressed, the charges get reduced or the charges get dismissed. If there's no proof of guilt, there's no tenable case against you.

Des Moines Fire Crimes Lawyers

Call an Iowa arson attorney when you’re facing charges of arson, reckless use of fire, possession of explosives, or other fire charges in the city of Des Moines Iowa or near the University of Iowa.

Des Moines theft lawyers can help ensure that your rights are respected when you’re accused of burning down property.

If a person has been charged with felony or misdemeanor arson for a fire offense in the greater Des Moines area, that person needs a theft defense lawyer. 

Defense lawyers for arson crimes in Des Moines, Polk County, Ankeny, Ames, Johnston, West Des Moines, Waukee, Saylorville, Bondurant, Altoona, Clive, Grimes, Pleasant Hill, Story County, Boone County, Marshall County, Dallas County, Jasper County, Madison County, Warren County, Marion County, Wapello County, Davis County, Ottumwa, Bloomfield, Iowa City, Council Bluffs, and the rest of Iowa.

polk county iowa criminal defense lawyers katie sears and john sears defense attorneys arson bomb threats reckless use of fire

This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Consult with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.  Reading this site doesn’t create an attorney-client relationship.  If you want to talk to us about your arson accusation in Iowa, please contact us at (515) 491 6128 and we’ll set up a time to talk.

What will happen if I’m charged?

When someone alleges that you have burned something, blown it up, or committed another fire offense, law enforcement will start an investigation.  Depending on whether they believe there is probable cause to charge you with Iowa arson, you could be taken to jail or given documents that say when your court date is.  After your arrest, you will be read your rights and given an opportunity to call a lawyer or a law firm.

You will be taken in front of the judge for an initial appearance.  The judge will schedule a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, you or your lawyer will have the opportunity to ask a witness questions to establish whether probable cause exists to charge you with the offense.  At this hearing, the witness will be under oath. There are reasons that your attorney might suggest waiving the preliminary hearing. You should consult with them before making a decision.

Your attorney will let you know when you will next have to appear in front of the court.  This may be for an arraignment or you may be able to submit a written arraignment.

The county attorney’s office will review the information provided to them by the police.  They will determine what offenses to charge you with. You could be charged with a misdemeanor with a felony

Your attorney will let you know what the government is claiming you did, what your rights are, what the worst case scenario sentence could be, and how this could affect your criminal record. Your criminal lawyer will tell you more about the fines, terms of incarceration, and collateral consequences that might apply.
Your law firm will give you legal advice on the pros and cons of taking your case to trial.  The decision of whether or not to go to trial is ultimately yours.

Finally, if you’re convicted, you might have reason and opportunity to appeal your conviction or sentence to the court of appeals or even to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Supreme Court might even say that there was a constitutional problem with the statute you were charged under.  Ask your criminal defense attorney for more information.

What should I know about lawyers generally?

Attorneys are people who completed their bachelor’s or 4-year degrees and then went on to attend a law school, such as Drake University Law School in Des Moines.  After completing law school, Iowa lawyers take the bar exam and are evaluated for character and fitness. Iowa lawyers are admitted to the Iowa state bar. The bar association regulates the legal profession.

Some lawyers and law firms do general practice, which means they accept all kind of representation.  Some lawyers specialize in particular areas of law. A lawyer might do only civil practice or only criminal defense.  Some lawyers get even more particular than that, practicing only (or primarily) in a narrow area, such as domestic violence, sex crime, sexual abuse, operating while intoxicated, child endangerment, child abuse, indecent exposure, theft, family law, child custody, possession of controlled substances, sex crimes, marijuana, DUI defense, arson, criminal mischief, vehicular homicide, drug offenses, traffic violations, violent crime or drunk driving. 

Many Iowa lawyers practice only in Iowa courts. All Iowa crimes are defined in the Iowa Code.  The Iowa rules of criminal procedure control what happens in Iowa criminal justice cases.

Federal court is different. If you are facing federal charges for a federal criminal offense, make sure to let your Iowa lawyer know that so that they can give you referrals to other attorneys, if necessary. Federal courts in Iowa are not the same things as state law courts in Iowa. Federal prosecutors and federal judges use different procedural rules. Federal crimes are subject to federal sentencing.

What offenses exist in Iowa criminal law?

Criminal law offenses are divided into misdemeanors and felonies. Class A felonies exist, but most people facing felony charges are facing a class B felony, a class C felony, or a class D felony. If you have questions about Iowa arson laws, you should talk to a lawyer.

What can an Iowa arson crimes lawyer do for me?

If you’ve been accused of arson, you need to be in contact with an attorney or law firm that works with Iowa criminal law.

If there’s a warrant out for your arrest, your Iowa criminal defense attorney can help coordinate with law enforcement to coordinate a self-surrender that doesn’t result in potential embarrassment at work or while you’re home with your family.

Your Iowa stolen property crime lawyer will stay in touch with the county attorney’s office and let the prosecutor know whether you choose to exercise or waive your right to speedy trial.  Further, counsel can provide some guidance on whether it’s advisable in your position to consider a plea agreement or to go to trial. They will talk to you about whether a judge or jury is likely to find a particular witness credible.

Your criminal lawyer will let you know what sort of jail time you might be facing if convicted, how this will impact your criminal history, and how likely it is that you could get your charges dismissed.

Victim Resources

 Finally, there is a Victim Services Support Program available through the Iowa attorney general’s office.