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lindagray

​​​​​​​Arson

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Arson is the crime of willfully and maliciously setting fire to or charring property. Though the act typically involves buildings, the term arson can also refer to the intentional burning of other things, such as motor vehicles, watercraft, or forests. The crime is typically classified as a felony, with instances involving a greater degree of risk to human life or property carrying a stricter penalty. A common motive for arson is to commit insurance fraud. In such cases, a person destroys their own property by burning it and then lies about the cause in order to collect against their insurance policy.

A person who commits arson is called an arsonist. Arsonists normally use an accelerant (such as gasoline or kerosene) to ignite, propel and directionalize fires, and the detection and identification of ignitable liquid residues (ILRs) is an important part of fire investigations. Pyromania is an impulse control disorder characterized by the pathological setting of fires. Most acts of arson are not committed by pyromaniacs.

English common law
Historically, the common law crime of arson had four elements:

The malicious
burning
of the dwelling
of another

Malicious
For purposes of common law arson, "malicious" refers action creating a great risk of a burning. It is not required that the defendant acted intentionally or willfully for the purpose of burning a dwelling.
Burning
At common law charring to any part of dwelling was sufficient to satisfy this element. No significant amount of damage to the dwelling was required. Any injury or damage to the structure caused by exposure to heat or flame is sufficient.
Of the dwelling
'Dwelling' refers to a place of residence. The destruction of an unoccupied building was not considered arson, "...since arson protected habitation, the burning of an unoccupied house did not constitute arson." At common law a structure did not become a residence until the first occupants had moved in, and ceased to be a dwelling if the occupants abandoned the premises with no intention of resuming their residency. Dwelling includes structures and outbuildings within the curtilage. Dwellings were not limited to houses. A barn could be the subject of arson occupied as a dwelling.
Of another
Burning one's own dwelling does not constitute common law arson, even if the purpose was to collect insurance, because "it was generally assumed in early England that one had the legal right to destroy his own property in any manner he chose". Moreover, for purposes of common law arson, possession or occupancy rather than title determines whose dwelling the structure is. Thus a tenant who sets fire to his rented house would not be guilty of common law arson, while the landlord who set fire to a rented dwelling house would be guilty.

United States
In the United States, the common law elements of arson are often varied in different jurisdictions. For example, the element of "dwelling" is no longer required in most states, and arson occurs by the burning of any real property without consent or with unlawful intent. Arson is prosecuted with attention to degree of severity in the alleged offense. First degree arson generally occurs when persons are harmed or killed in the course of the fire, while second degree arson occurs when significant destruction of property occurs. While usually a felony, arson may also be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, "criminal mischief", or "destruction of property."

Burglary also occurs, if the arson involved a "breaking and entering". A person may be sentenced to death if arson occurred as a method of homicide, as was the case in California of Raymond Lee Oyler and in Texas of Cameron Todd Willingham.

In New York, arson is charged in five degrees. Arson in the first degree is a Class A-1 felony and requires the intent to burn the building with a person inside using an explosive incendiary device. It has a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

In California, a conviction for arson of property that is not your own is a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison. Aggravated arson, which carries the most severe punishment for arson, is punishable by 10 years to life in state prison. Raymond Lee Oyler was ultimately convicted of murder and sentenced to death for a 2006 fire in southern California that led to the deaths of five U.S. Forest Service firefighters; he was the first U.S. citizen to receive such a conviction and penalty for wildfire arson.

Some states, such as California, prosecute the lesser offense of "reckless burning" when the fire is set recklessly as opposed to wilfully and maliciously. The study of the causes is the subject of fire investigation.

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