Law School Case Brief
People v. Lee - 24 Cal. App. 4th 1773, 30 Cal. Rptr. 2d 224 (1994)
Cal. Penal Code § 451 provides that a person is guilty of arson when he or she willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned any structure. Cal. Penal Code § 451(b) provides arson of an inhabited structure is a felony punishable by three, five or eight years in state prison.
After a quarrel with her aunt, defendant Ondrea M. Lee left her aunt's house. She later returned and threw a firebomb through a broken window. The curtains, which were closed over the window, immediately caught fire. The wood frame surrounding the window where the curtains burned was not charred. Fires on the floor burned through the carpet and through the carpet padding under the carpet. Lee was charged with attempted murder and arson of an inhabited structure. After trial in California state court, a jury found her guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced Lee to seven years' imprisonment for the attempted murder and five years on the arson conviction. The court ordered the sentences to run concurrently. Lee appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions.
Was there sufficient evidence to support Lee's convictions?
The appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court rejected Lee's claim that there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction for arson of an inhabited structure because there was no evidence any part of the wood structure was burned or charred by the fire. The court noted that the evidence established that the fire burned through the carpet and the carpet pad to the wood flooring beneath before a neighbor was able to stomp out the flames. The court held that the jury could have reasonably found that the carpet was a fixture affixed to the real property so securely and permanently that it had become an integral part of the structure. Accordingly, evidence the wall-to-wall carpeting was burned by the fire was ample evidence of arson of an inhabited structure to support the conviction.
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