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Name: In re J. H.
Case #: B212635
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 8
Opinion Date: 12/03/2009
Subsequent History: rev. granted 1/20/10 (S179579)

An arson conviction requires proof of a malicious mental state despite the fact that it is a general intent crime. The minor and his friends were playing with firecrackers in the woods and caused a fire that burned five acres. The juvenile court found appellant committed arson despite specifically finding the minor had no intention of starting a fire. Appellant argued there was insufficient evidence to sustain the true finding. The court agreed because there was no evidence of malice. People v. Atkins (2001) 25 Cal.4th 76, did not do away with the malice requirement for this crime; rather, it clarified a perpetrator need not have the specific intent to burn a particular structure, forest land or property. Here, the prosecution presented no evidence that the act that caused the fire, lighting and throwing a firecracker, was done with a wish to vex, annoy, or injure anyone or with an intent to commit a wrongful act. The court reduced the conviction to the lesser included offense of unlawfully causing a fire (Pen. Code, § 452), which covers reckless accidents or unintentional fires.