A man recently left his home in western Morris County on a vacation to a neighboring state. While he was gone, a fire broke out in his apartment; firefighters arrived and found a fire in the kitchen, which they were able to subdue. They claimed that the source of the fire was a lit candle under a chair with clothes hanging over it; further, they reported finding propane tanks left open in the apartment.
The man, a landscaper in his early thirties, was soon arrested in New York and brought back to Morris County to face aggravated arson charges. Perhaps due to his previous criminal record – including a sex offense while he was a juvenile – prosecutors are taking a particularly harsh stance towards the defendant. His bail was originally set at $100,000, but the prosecution requested that the judge restrict the bail to cash only. When the defendant inquired about posting a house, his request was denied.
The charges themselves – aggravated arson – also reflect the severity with which authorities are treating the case. The elevated charge of aggravated arson is commonly filed against a defendant who allegedly tried to set fire to a building with people inside, as opposed to some empty structure in an isolated setting, whether or not anyone was actually harmed or killed. The defendant in this case could face up to 20 years behind bars if convicted on both counts.
An arson investigation, however, can take months or even years to complete, as police need to use advanced techniques in analyzing the scene. Without such evidence in court, the defense may be able to highlight weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
It is always concerning when police in Morris County appear to be taking crimes allegedly committed by a juvenile defendant into account when charging an adult defendant, let alone taking measures to make bail more difficult to pay. But it is important to remember that defendants don’t need to prove their innocence in court – they only need to argue effectively for a reasonable doubt.