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Meth Smoker Burns 3,500 Year Old Tree - Punishment?

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While some states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, no state has pushed for the legalization of methamphetamine, and the fact that a meth user was recently accused of destroying a 3,500 year old tree while getting high isn't going sway public opinion in favor of legalization. The 120 foot tall tree, called "The Senator," had a hollow space in the trunk that allowed visitors to enter the bottom portion of the tree. A Florida woman recently decided to go into the trunk, but, because the trunk did not allow natural light to enter, the woman had to start a fire within the tree so she could see to smoke her meth. The fire ultimately burned the majority of the tree, with only about 20 feet of the famous tree left standing.

Pennsylvania Criminal Charges

If this incident had occurred in Pennsylvania, the woman most likely would be charged with Arson and Criminal Mischief. The girl intentionally set the fire, but she did so to provide light to smoke the meth and did not intentionally try to burn down the tree. If she had the intent to start the fire to cause damage to an occupied structure, the charge would be more severe. In this case, she would most likely be charged with a subsection of Arson called Reckless Burning, found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3301(d), which prohibits a person from intentionally starting a fire that recklessly places an uninhabited building or unoccupied structure of another in danger of damage or destruction. The charge is a felony of the third degree and thereby has a maximum sentence of 7 years incarceration and a $15,000.00 fine.

The woman would also be charged with Criminal Mischief, which generally prohibits a person from damaging the property of another person. Pennsylvania 18 Pa.C.S. § 3304(a)(1) states that a person can be found guilty of criminal mischief if he or she damages another's property with fire. The severity of the offense is dependent on the value of the damaged property. Here, we have the 5th oldest tree in the world that was destroyed. One cannot argue that the tree does not hold great historical value. However, historic value does not easily convert to monetary values necessary to determine whether or not the person gets charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. To be charged with felony criminal mischief, the loss has to be greater than $5,000. I'm sure that the prosecution will present evidence showing how historic and priceless this tree was, but the defense could equally argue that the tree's "market value" is impossible to determine. Regardless of the monetary value, many are upset at this woman for destroying a beloved historic structure in such a senseless way.

I am sure that some people are surprised that she would not be charged with a misdemeanor offense of drug possession for the Methamphetamine, but the prosecution probably would not have sufficient evidence to charge her with possession. In this case, I suspect that the only evidence that the police have that the women was smoking meth was her admission. Generally, a person cannot be convicted based upon a statement, meaning the police must have some evidence that a crime occurred.

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