UCMJ Article 126: Arson Related Offense

At Bilecki Law Group, we defend service members against charges of arson under Article 126 of the UCMJ. We know there is more to the story than the prosecution is telling and we’ll fight to bring your truth into the light.

What Is Article 126 Of The UCMJ?

Article 126of the UCMJ governs charges related to arson as committed by service members of the United States Armed Forces. These charges include aggravated arson of an inhabited dwelling, aggravated arson of a structure, simple arson and burning with intent to defraud.

What is most important for a service member to understand is that if you are convicted of just simple arson under Article 126, that’s enough to end your career and could put you in military prison for a lot of years depending on the value of the property destroyed.

That’s right, even after blowing up some serious shit in foreign lands and literally being taught to burn down any and everything, if you so much as willfully set fire to a porta potty, aka “shitter,” the military can and will take everything from you. There is a better than average chance that if you are being charged with arson, it started with a simple matter that got out of hand. So, you’re going to have to fight for your life and career whether you want to or not.

What Specific Arson Charges Resident Under Article 126?

There are four charges related to arson that reside under Article 126 of the UCMJ and each one comes with its own unique set of elements that must be satisfied to find a service member guilty. We’re going to list them exactly as you would see them in the UCMJ and also show you the corresponding maximum punishment. Now, a good military defense attorney is going to understand these elements forwards and backwards. If you’ve been assigned a free JAG lawyer who doesn’t know as much as you will about them after you read this, it’s time to seek better representation.

Arson (Aggravated Inhabited Dwelling) – For a service member to be found guilty, the prosecution must satisfy the following two elements:

(1) That (state the time and place alleged), the accused (burned) (set on fire) an inhabited dwelling, that is: (state the inhabited dwelling alleged); and

(2) That the act was willful and malicious.

The UCMJ then clarifies that “Inhabited dwelling” means the structure must be used for habitation, not that a human being must be present therein at the time the dwelling is burned or set on fire. A person may also be found guilty of burning their own dwelling, whether they are an owner or tenant of said dwelling.

Maximum Punishment: Dishonorable discharge, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, 25 years confinement and reduction in rank to E-1.

 Arson (Aggravated Structure) – For a service member to be found guilty, the prosecution must satisfy the following four elements:

(1) That (state the time and place alleged), the accused (burned) (set on fire) a certain structure, that is: (state the structure alleged);

(2) That the act was willful and malicious;

(3) That there was a human being in the structure at the time; and

(4) That the accused knew that there was a human being other than the accused (or (his) (her) confederates) in the structure at the time.

There is no requirement that the accused specifically intend to set fire to or burn the structure alleged in the specification. To satisfy the first and second elements of this offense, the accused need only willfully and maliciously start the fire that resulted in the burning or charring of the structure alleged.

Maximum Punishment: Dishonorable discharge, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, 25 years confinement and reduction in rank to E-1.

 Arson (Simple) – For a service member to be found guilty, the prosecution must satisfy the following two elements, with an additional aggravating factor related to property value:

(1) That (state the time and place alleged), the accused (burned) (set fire to) certain property, that is: (state the property alleged), the property of another; (and)

(2) That the act was willful and malicious; [and]

[(3)] That the property was of a value of more than $1000.

Once again, there is no requirement that the accused specifically intend to set fire to or burn the structure alleged in the specification. To satisfy the first and second elements of this offense, the accused need only willfully and maliciously start the fire that resulted in the burning or charring of the structure alleged. In addition, proof that the property was destroyed or seriously damaged is not required to establish the offense.

Maximum Punishment: Value of $1,000 or less comes with a dishonorable discharge, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, 5 years confinement and reduction in rank to E-1.

 Value of over $1,000 comes with a dishonorable discharge, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, 10 years confinement and reduction in rank to E-1.

 Burning With Intent To Defraud – For a service member to be found guilty, the prosecution must satisfy the following three elements:

(1) That (state the time and place alleged), the accused (burned) (set fire to) certain property, that is: (state the property alleged);

(2) That the act was willful and malicious; and

(3) That such (burning) (setting on fire) was with the intent to defraud (state the name of the person or organization alleged).

Maximum Punishment: Dishonorable discharge, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, 10 years confinement and reduction in rank to E-1.

How To Fight Back and Win Against Article 126 Charges?

Here’s the thing. If you burned down the command’s HQ because the CO took your stapler without asking, you’re in some big trouble. However, those are not the type of arson charges we tend to see in the military. In reality, it’s some boot Lance Corporal who illegally had a toaster oven in his barracks and set the place on fire because he knocked it over when drunk and it landed on his fully inflated blow-up doll. Stranger things happen in the barracks, trust us on this one.

Yes, there are cases of legit arson that take place in the military, and they often erupt out scenes of severe psychological stress and trauma. It’s just that at many times, the prosecutor assumes malice and willful harm when it’s an honest mistake. So, if contrary to the popular song, you did indeed start the fire and it wasn’t always burning since the world was turning, you still need to fight for your career and freedom. So, how do you fight and win? You fight like hell and you don’t let up until the end.

Crimes related to arson are some of the most resource-intensive offenses in the UCMJ for both prosecutors and defense attorneys. Crime scene investigations, forensic experts, identifying witness testimony and exploring the motives of the accused all take time, money and manpower to get right.   You know for a fact that prosecutors have those resources in abundance. Hiring a defense team with equal resources isn’t just a good idea; it’s a necessity if you have any hope of exonerating yourself of these charges.

  • The forensic investigation is critically important. Do you trust law enforcement’s forensic experts to canvas the crime scene completely, assess the evidence thoroughly and withhold judgment of its prime suspect (you) until it has assessed all the facts? The government is far more interested in finding a guilty party than it is finding the right guilty party. A proper defense investigation into the crime scene is, therefore, of critical consequence to your case.
  • Motives are equally essential in an arson case. Prosecutors will claim you maliciously sought to destroy the property of another. They may even suggest you intended to murder the individuals residing in the property at the time. A strong defense will ensure prosecutors never have a chance to define your motives. If the government cannot confidently prove why you would do such a thing without precedent, then you may be outright acquitted of all crimes.
  • Fires can and do happen by accident. Many arson experts will point to a location where the fire was allegedly set. We can have our own team of experts review the fire’s path, from the moment it began to the time it engulfed the entire home or property. If there is any indication that the fire was accidental, we’ll find evidence for it.

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Building on fire from arsonist

Taking the Fight To The Heart Of The Military Justice System

Namesake and founder, Tim Bilecki, spent years within the military justice system as a senior defense counsel for the U.S. Army. He will tell you firsthand how the game is rigged in favor of the prosecution. You see, the military justice system does not exist to discover truth or pursue justice above all. The military justice system exists to preserve order and military discipline. That’s it and nothing else.

For this to work they have to make public examples out of others in order to scare others into compliance. So, you are the Marine who set fire to the barracks with a forbidden cooking device, they are going to destroy in a public and spectacular manner. Your goal is to make yourself a harder target than the next guy and put up a fight so that they make that example out of someone else. We put together a defense so aggressive, it’s a shame not to call it an offense. We won’t let the prosecution get away with a lazy assumption of willful and malicious intent. If they want to prove that, they are going to have to come through us first and we will fight them at every turn. You already lost your blowup doll in the fire, no reason to lose your career and freedom as well. Reach out to us and we’ll give you a free defense strategy session that you can use whether or not you choose to retain us. It’s yours and as long as you are leading the fight against abuse and misuse of the UCMJ, we’re on your side. A fight is coming your way whether you want one or not if you are under investigation and we are pleading with General Mattis style tears in our eyes, get us into that fight. 

 Bilecki Law Group will help you fight back against charges under Article 126: Arson

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Frequently Asked Questions About Article 126

Article 125 can be broken down into aggravated and simple arson. The maximum sentence in your case will depend on the alleged offense that you are under investigation for. 

Aggravated arson

Don’t just plead guilty… Fight Back !

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