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Name: In re V.V. & J.H.
Case #: S177654
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 06/06/2011

Where minor defendants had intent to ignite fire in brush-covered area in situation where there is a high probability the brush would burn, malice for purposes of arson is established. The minor defendants lit a cherry bomb and threw it into a brush-covered hillside. A fire was thereby started. The minors contended there was insufficient evidence of malice to satisfy the elements of Penal Code sections 450 and 451 (arson) because they lit the firecracker without the intent to start a brush fire. The statutory definition of arson is derived from common law and denotes a willful and malicious burning. Although malice has its foundation in ill-will, it does not necessary take the form of malevolence or ill will. It is a wrongful act, done intentionally, without justification or excuse. Further, there is a presumption of malice raised in certain cases upon certain proof — called malice in law. In the context of arson, malice may be presumed from the intentional ignition or deliberate setting of a fire without justification or excuse. Here the minors lit and threw a cherry bomb into the brush. They were not required to be subjectively aware of the fact a fire would be the probable result of their act. A defendant may be guilty of arson if he acts with an awareness of circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to know that the natural and probable consequences of igniting and throwing a firecracker into the brush would be a brush fire.