Local Tampa man, Cort Allenbrand has been arrested on arson charges after authorities allege that he set his girlfriend’s house on fire in Seffner, Florida early Wednesday morning. Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue authorities claim Cort Allenbrand went to his ex-girlfriend’s home early this morning with fire accelerant and lit a fire near the back of the residence. Before the fire could engulf the house and cause major damage a nearby neighbor was able to put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher. Police say Allenbrand was able to flee the scene but was arrested a few hours later at 3:30AM and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail. As it stands now, police are recommending to the State Attorney’s Office that he be charged with the first degree felony version of arson due to the subject matter of the arson being considered a dwelling. In Florida, arson of a dwelling is a first degree felony regardless of whether it is occupied.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Allenbrand or whoever started this fire had an axe to grind in some way, shape, or form against his ex-girlfriend or her mother. In my experience as a Tampa criminal attorney, arson is a crime committed by a kid, is committed by someone trying to cover something up, or as I believe in this case, is committed by someone who is angry with someone else. What most arsonists don’t take into consideration is just how seriously Florida police agencies and State Attorney’s Offices take an allegation of arson.
Arson is codified under Florida Statute 806.01. Defined, arson occurs when one willfully and unlawfully, or while in the commission of any felony, by fire or explosion, damages or causes to be damaged any dwelling occupied or not, or its contents or any structure or its contents, where people are normally present. Examples of places covered under this Statute could be: jails, prisons, or detention centers; hospitals, nursing homes, or other health care facilities; department stores, office buildings, business establishments, churches, or educational institutions during normal hours of occupancy; or other similar structures; or any other structure that the individual knew or had reasonable grounds to believe was occupied by a someone. Complete this magic circle of fun and you’ll be staring down the barrel of first degree felony, first degree arson punishable by up to 30 years in the Florida Department of Corrections and a $10,000 fine.
A potential problem in many arson cases could be the State’s ability to prove identity. There is the possibility that Allenbrand could have made an admission upon arrest. However, if he didn’t and no one could positively identify him, he could have a fighting chance against these allegations. Arson often occurs under the cover of night and most arsonists who are somewhat cautious will take care to disguise their appearance. This causes identity issues for the State short of the Police catching the individual in the act or fleeing the scene in an obvious fashion. If Allenbrand wasn’t identified, made no admissions, was arrested at a good distance from the victim’s home, and had no suspicious clothing or materials in his possession, a good Tampa criminal lawyer could mount a very reasonable defense against the accusation and could earn a complete acquittal for his client.
At the end of the day maybe Allenbrand did it. Maybe he didn’t. As with any arson charge it may not be as easy to prove as the media lets on. Due process must run its course and with that it is best not to pass judgment until the smoke has cleared. Literally.
Jason Mayberry is a Tampa criminal attorney licensed in Florida and Tennessee. He is the founding partner of The Mayberry Law Firm located in Tampa and Clearwater, Florida. If you’ve been accused of a crime in Florida we are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 813-444-7435 or at 727-771-3847.