Reckless burning vs Arson in Utah

Authorities are searching for information on the persons responsible for causing the wildfires that are tearing through Utah presently, but will those responsibility end up facing reckless burning or arson charges? What is the difference?

6,000 acres and counting

Photo by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

The skies of southern and northeastern Utah are full of smoke as wildfires burn through nearly 6,000 acres of land. The Mackshaft fire that is 25% contained and has already consumed 2,453 acres of land is located southeast of Vernal near the city of Bonanza. The cause of that fire is still under investigation according to Utahfireinfo.gov. The Brian Head Fire located in very close proximity to the resort town of Brian Head, Utah east of Cedar City has been determined to be human caused. That fire has burned 2,761 acres of land so far and is being further fueled by hot, dry winds. The Brian Head Fire is currently at only 15% containment.

Fire rules and restrictions

With wildfire season upon us, strict rules are in place regarding when and where fires are permitted. Wildfires are more common during the hot, dry months of summer and by limiting the number of human caused fires during this time, fire officials can focus their energy and resources on naturally caused fires instead. When a human caused fire does occur, those individuals responsible may be expected to reimburse the state for the costs associated with controlling and extinguishing the fire. Additionally, they may face criminal charges for either reckless burning or arson. This depends on many factors including whether or not the fire was accidental or intentional and the cost of the total damage.

Reckless burning

Reckless Burning vs Arson

Photo by: Denis Dervisevic

Utah Code 76-6-104 discusses reckless burning and the penalties associated with charges. It states:

“(1) A person is guilty of reckless burning if the person:
(a) recklessly starts a fire or causes an explosion which endangers human life;
(b) having started a fire, whether recklessly or not, and knowing that it is spreading and will endanger the life or property of another, either fails to take reasonable measures to put out or control the fire or fails to give a prompt fire alarm;
(c) builds or maintains a fire without taking reasonable steps to remove all flammable materials surrounding the site of the fire as necessary to prevent the fire’s spread or escape; or
(d) damages the property of another by reckless use of fire or causing an explosion.
(2)
(a) A violation of Subsection (1)(a) or (b) is a class A misdemeanor.
(b) A violation of Subsection (1)(c) is a class B misdemeanor.
(c) A violation of Subsection (1)(d) is:
(i) a class A misdemeanor if damage to property is or exceeds $1,500 in value;
(ii) a class B misdemeanor if the damage to property is or exceeds $500 but is less than $1,500 in value; and
(iii) a class C misdemeanor if the damage to property is or exceeds $150 but is less than $500 in value.
(d) Any other violation under Subsection (1)(d) is an infraction.

Arson

Arson charges are much more severe than reckless burning as it involves intent or criminal activity leading up to the event. Arson charges usually arise when someone sets fire to the property of another such as a home or vehicle, however wildfires that are started intentionally have the potential to cause structural damage as well. According to Utah Code 76-6-102:
“(1) A person is guilty of arson if, under circumstances not amounting to aggravated arson, the
person by means of fire or explosives unlawfully and intentionally damages:
(a) any property with intention of defrauding an insurer; or
(b) the property of another.
Depending on value of the damage and whether or not injuries occurred as a result of the violation, charges for arson can range from a class B misdemeanor to a second degree felony.

Criminal Defense

Anyone facing charges for accidentally starting a fire (reckless burning) or intentionally starting a fire (arson) should immediately seek counsel with a reputable criminal defense attorney.

Up to 6 Months in Jail for Collecting Brine Shrimp Eggs without a Permit

According to Utah Code 23-20-3, without a permit, tag, or other type of registration, a person may face up to 6 months in jail and an $800 fine if they” commercially harvest protected wildlife, including brine shrimp and brine shrimp eggs.”

Seafood harvesting in Utah?

Brine Shrimp Eggs

Photo by: Saul Dolgin

Collecting seafood may be something that is typically conducted along coastal states; however the Great Salt Lake has its own salt water ecosystem that is home to millions of pounds of brine shrimp. According to the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program “Brine shrimp [commonly known as the Sea Monkeys] are crustaceans that inhabit salty waters around the world, both inland and on the coast. ( . . . ) Although small, they serve as an essential food source for millions of birds that breed or stopover at the Great Salt Lake during migration [;] and, in recent years, these shrimp support a multi-million dollar commercial harvest.”

Collecting brine shrimp eggs

The brine shrimp that inhabit the Great Salt Lake were discovered in the early 1950’s and used as food for larger fish. After a few years of harvesting the adult brine shrimp, harvesters noted the adults were dying off quickly in the fall but leaving behind cysts of brine shrimp eggs that were extremely durable. Harvesters quickly ceased collecting the adult shrimp, only to collect the brine shrimp eggs during the annual winter harvests and clean and ship them off around the world. The harvest for brine shrimp eggs usually lasts between October and January.

Protecting a resource

Photo by:
Liji Jinaraj

Once world was spread of the brine shrimp eggs in the Great Salt Lake, something had to be done to protect this saltwater resource. Each year, there are less than 80 permits issued to companies that harvest brine shrimp eggs. Along with the permit is the agreement that those companies will pay the state royalties in what the Brine Shrimp Royalty Act (59-23-3) defines as “3.75 cents multiplied by the total number of pounds of unprocessed brine shrimp eggs that the person harvests within the state during the tax year.”

Trouble ahead for egg collectors

As the shores of the Great Salt Lake continue to recede, the number of permits may decrease while penalties may rise for those who collect brine shrimp eggs without a permit. As it stands now, collecting brine shrimp eggs commercially can result in a class B misdemeanor if done without a permit. The Utah Department of Natural Resources R657-52-3 adds “A person [not with a company] may not harvest, possess, or transport brine shrimp or brine shrimp eggs without first obtaining a certificate of registration” or they may face a class C misdemeanor. For more information regarding fishing,hunting, or wildlife laws in general, contact the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. For assistance with legal charges, speak with an attorney immediately.

Repeat Sex Offender in Utah

A Provo man who was arrested for multiple sexual charges against a young child turned out to be a repeat sex offender, registered both times in the state of Utah.

Sexual abuse of a child

Photo by: Victor

Photo by: Victor

56 year old Roger Lowell Falkner of Provo Utah was arrested after a young child came forward and told police Falkner had sexually abused her. When confronted with the charges, Falkner verified everything the little girl had told police and was booked into the Utah County Jail on multiple charges.

Repeat sex offender

This incident was not the first time Falkner had been charged with sexual offenses; in fact, Falkner was a convicted repeat sex offender in the state of Utah. According to Family Watchdog, his first conviction was in December of 1992 for second degree felony sexual abuse of a child. Nearly 13 years later in September of 2005, he was convicted of third degree attempted forcible sexual abuse. Now 12 years later he faces a first degree felony for sodomy on a child; three second degree felonies for sexual abuse of a child, dealing harmful material to a minor, and exploitation of a minor; he also faces a third degree felony for lewdness.

Recidivism rate of sex offenders

Repeat Sex Offender

Photo by: Ken Teegardin

Regrettably, there are times when a person convicted of a sex crime is not successfully rehabilitated and becomes a repeat sex offender with new sexual charges against them. Fortunately, a document put forth by the Utah Department of Corrections & Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice in 2010 portrays that repeat offenders, or recidivism, isn’t as common as people think. Although the number of sex offenders under the watch of the Department of Corrections has continued to increase over the years, most of those who are arrested after being released are arrested because of “technical violations of the conditions of parole, not new criminal behavior”.

Sex offender treatment programs

The Utah Department of Corrections notes that strict probation as well as the state of Utah’s sex offender program is to thank for the lower rate of repeat offenders. They shared the results of a study conducted over the course of up to 26 years of “388 offenders of a felony sex offense who were treated in the Bonneville Community Corrections Center program between 1979 and 1994, [including] both successful program completers and failures” and indicated that “83% of the offenders had no new criminal convictions during the entire follow-up period. “ The UDC document then went on to proclaim that “successful completers of treatment were significantly less likely to have any form of recidivism that those who failed- successful treatment completers had a 26% lower recidivism rate than non-completers. If the treatment programs are so successful, why would someone such as Roger Falkner continue on to be repeat sex offender?

Program funding

Photo by: Kevin Cortopassi

Photo by: Kevin Cortopassi

Sadly, for a program that has been proven to work to rehabilitate sex offenders, it has not received the funding needed to keep up with the demand. Regardless of inflation, the sex offender treatment program in Utah hasn’t seen an increase in funding for over twenty years. Instead, they have lost one of their major facilities to house inmates who are incarcerated for sexual offenses and awaiting the program. Now, those convicted of a sexual offense are dispersed among the prison population while they sit on waiting list pending treatment. Hopefully they will be able to receive the help they need before their time is served and they are back in the community. Although there has been no news of increased funding for the sex offender treatment programs, there are changes being made to fix the program so it is more effective for those inmates who are participating. Perhaps these changes will help reduce another person like Falkner from becoming a repeat sex offender and ruining a victim’s life as well as their own. For more information on charges for sexual offenses or for defense and treatment options for a repeat sex offender, contact a criminal defense attorney.