The devastation resulting from wildfires that have created havoc near Gatlinburg, Tennessee over November and December 2016 is astounding. So far, there have been 14 deaths and approximately 175 injured; property damage includes the destruction of 2,400 homes, commercial buildings, and other structures. According to CNN, early estimates put the toll at more than $500 million and that number could rise as authorities continue to assess the massive swath of scorched landscape.
From the beginning, officials have pointed to arson as the cause of the wildfires. Based on their investigation, two juveniles are currently being held at a Sevier County detention center in connection with the blaze; they may face murder charges under the circumstances.
Ideal Conditions for Wildfire Spreading: The wildfire started from an initial fire that the youths allegedly lit November 23 along the Tennessee-North Carolina border within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The area’s significant drought, coupled with 70 mile per hour winds, fueled the fire to a catastrophic level within five days A total of 14 or more fires had spread up to 10 miles away, reaching the resort town of Gatlinburg. Evacuations were ordered, as some tourists and residents left with just the clothes they were wearing.
Prosecutors Will Seek Severe Charges: Local prosecutors have indicated that they will charge the two juveniles with severe penalties, though their age remains a factor. The law prevents authorities from releasing key details in the case, so it’s unknown whether the pair will be charged as minors or adults. There are two possibilities in the matter.
- Aggravated Arson: When the offender should anticipate that one or more people will be in the area near where the fire was set, the charge may be aggravated arson. Being near a national park and within the vicinity of residential areas, there may be enough support for prosecutors to pursue aggravated arson charges. If convicted, the two Tennessee youths could be sentenced to 60 years in prison.
- First Degree Murder Charges Are Possible: Depending on the facts released so far and the results of the investigation, first degree murder charges may apply. Under state law, first degree murder includes the killing of a person which occurs during the commission of another crime; arson is included within that category. A conviction for first degree murder carries a sentence of life in prison, life imprisonment without parole, or the death sentence.
- Other Potential Charges: The two most severe charges after first degree murder are second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter. Both of these counts require an intentional killing, so there may not be sufficient evidence to charge the two youths.
Prosecutors may also opt to pursue charges for reckless or criminally negligent homicide, which include penalties up to 12 and six years in prison, respectively.
Arson cases in San Diego California
There are still many unknown facts as authorities continue their investigation, but it’s not too early for the accused to retain a lawyer. Even as officials are still collecting evidence, a criminal defense attorney can protect your legal rights. If you could potentially be charged with a crime, contact a San Diego criminal defense attorney right away to discuss your case.
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