Earlier this week a 19-year-old from the state of Mississippi pled guilty to a federal arson charge stemming from a fire at a home located within Fort Meade. According to facts presented at the plea the young man poured lighter fluid in various areas of his father and stepmother’s home, including the front door, welcome mat, stairs and the door to his parent’s bedroom. The defendant apparently lit the fire inside the home and then suffered a leg injury jumping off the rear porch. Luckily the fire was extinguished without any other injures, and minimal property damage, but the situation obviously could have gone much worse. After being cleared by paramedics, the defendant was interviewed by the Fort Meade Military Police Department. He subsequently admitted to spreading accelerant and lighting the fire. Multiple fire departments and law enforcement agencies were involved in this incident including the FBI, ATF, Howard County State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Anne Arundel County Fire Department. The case is being prosecuted by the Baltimore office of the United States Attorney, as the arson occurred on federal property.
The defendant is this particular case was found guilty of an extremely serious crime, and faces up to life in prison for his actions. Arson within a special maritime and territorial jurisdiction under 18 U.S. Code §81 is a felony typically punishable by up to 25 years, but if the fire was started in a dwelling or if any person’s life was placed in jeopardy the maximum penalty becomes life in jail. In this case the government was able to establish both that the fire was started in a dwelling, and that the victims were placed in jeopardy. The defendant will certainly not be sentenced to life in prison, and likely much less than 25 years when he is sentenced in few months. There are probably some underlying issues that must be explored in this type of case, and hopefully the government will take that into consideration when making a sentencing recommendation.
Arson by itself is not the type of crime that is typically prosecuted in federal court, unless the act occurs within a special maritime and territorial jurisdiction. This includes all United States military bases and federal installations such as Fort Meade, Joint Base Andrews and Aberdeen Proving Ground. Other charges such as destruction of property government property are also typically prosecuted along with arson pursuant to the malicious mischief section of the U.S. Code. Had there been property damage the defendant would likely have been charged with destruction of federal property as well. This offense is a felony punishable by up to 10 years as long as the value of the damage exceeds $1,000. If the damage is less than $1,000 the offense would be considered a petty offense, and punishable by up to 1 year in jail.