It seemed like a good idea at the time. You spread some gasoline inside a house or maybe it was an abandoned building or a car. In any case, the fire department figured out pretty quickly that the fire was intentional, and the police came knocking at your door.

What can happen to you? What can you do?

Arson is among the most serious crimes that you can commit in Illinois. Setting fire to someone’s property, be it a building, a car or some other personal property, without the owner’s consent is a Class 2 felony, punishable by 3 to 7 years in jail. If you torch someone else’s residence or a church, the charge is bumped up to a Class 1 felony, punishable by 4 to 15 years.

Arson can be particularly complicated if other crimes are caused by the original act. For example, if someone was injured as a result of the fire, you could be charged with attempted murder.

Arson includes damages caused by fire or explosives. Even if you own the property you burned, it is still arson if you intended to defraud an insurance company or if you lacked authority to damage the property.

If you are charged with arson, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. You should not talk about your case with anyone, and you should refuse to answer questions from police. An attorney can review your case to determine the best possible strategy for your defense.

As in most crimes, the state must prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Can they prove it was you who set the fire? The law requires that you acted knowingly. Was the fire an accident? Did you have a right to set it?

If you have questions about this or another related criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

Source: 720 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/20.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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