Arson of an Inhabited Structure Includes a Motor Home?
A San Bernardino jury found Richard James Goolsby guilty of arson of an inhabited structure in violation of Penal Code § 451(b). The evidence was that Goolsby and his girlfriend got into an argument. They lived in a motor home on a vacant lot. Sometime after the argument, Goolsby moved another motor home he owned up next to the one he and his girlfriend lived in. Testimony at trial was that he then set fire to the empty motor home and the fire then spread to the motor home wherein his girlfriend was asleep.The Gist of This Article: Conviction for arson of an inhabited structure reversed when man sets fire to an empty motor home, which the appellate court found was not a structure because it was not fixed to the ground and was on wheels.
Goolsby appealed his conviction to the Fourth Appellate District on many grounds. This article will only discuss whether the jury correctly convicted him of arson to an inhabited structure. Goolsby argued that his motor home was not a structure. Indeed, under Penal Code § 450(a), “structure” is defined as “any building or commercial or public tent, bridge, tunnel or powerplant.”
Goolsby argued at the trial court that his motor home was not a structure under the Penal Code. The prosecutor, at the trial court, argued that a building should be broadly constructed to include anything with walls and a roof and whose purpose is to hold people and property. The DA conceded that although a motor home is not fixed to the ground, it is functionally a building and has critical dwelling design features to serve as a building. The trial court judge agreed with the prosecutor, even taking into account defendant’s intent to reside in the mobile home permanently.
The Fourth Appellate District, in People v. Richard James Goolsby (2013 DJDAR 5544), agreed with Goolsby. It noted first and foremost that the mobile home was not attached or fixed to the ground. Therefore, the increased punishment applicable to arson of a structure did not apply to Goolsby.
The appellate court consequently stated that it had no alternative but to reverse defendant’s conviction with instructions for the trial court to dismiss the charges. It could not remand the case for a new trial because that would violate the constitutional prohibition against placing a person twice in jeopardy for the same offense. Double jeopardy applied because the court applied the “substantial evidence” test and found the prosecution simply failed to prove its case.
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