Arson is defined as the willful and malicious burning or charring of property or structure. Previously, arson only could be committed when a person sets fire to a house or residence of another. Arson laws have now expanded to cover other types of property such as commercial property, forest land, boats, and even personal property. Arson statutes typically classify arson as a felony due to the potential types of serious injury or death it can cause. Arson laws also exist in every state, though there are some different distinctions between how each state law punishes or categorizes the crime of arson.
The elements of arson are:
- Intent: You can only commit arson if you intentionally burn the property of another without their permission. This means that you cannot be convicted of arson if you accidentally set fire to something.
- Recklessness: In some states, you can also commit arson if you damage the property of another as a result of being reckless and knowing that your act is dangerous and can cause dangerous results.
- Property Damage: The property must actually be damaged in order to be guilty of arson. This means that there must be some type of charring or destruction of the property. If no damage occurred, no arson has been committed.
If you intentionally set fire to and burn your own building for the purposes of insurance fraud or otherwise, you are still guilty of arson. In the past, arson laws only applied when one set fire to a house of another. However, now there are many types of arson laws set in place to prevent people to intentionally and fraudulently causing fire.
Many states have places different degrees of arson. The degrees of arson is based on different factors that vary from state to state. Some factors states consider in establishing degrees of arson are:
- The type of building burned: burning a house, school, or church is a worse kind of arson than burning an abandoned building
- The value of the building burned
- The proximity of other people to the structure that is burned: burning a building in an area where people are likely to be hurt is worse than burning a building in an area that is deserted
- Whether the arsonist paid or accepted payment for the burning of the building
High degrees of arson will result in stricter punishments and penalties. The punishments and penalties also depend on the amount of damage that occurred to the property and whether there was any type of injury or death that resulted from the arson.
Depending on the degree of arson and the prevailing state law, possible consequences of arson could include:
- A felony charge
- A misdemeanor charge
- Jail or prison time
- Homicide charges, if anyone was killed by the fire
If you are accused of arson, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer. A good criminal defense lawyer will let you know what your rights are and will represent you in court. The crime of arson is a very serious matter and all arson matters are investigated by top law enforcement units who use the most advanced chemical tests to locate the focal point of the fire and how the fire started. Investigators also look into the motivation behind the arson such as to hide another crime including murder and for financial or insurance purposes.