Arson

Arson

Overview

Arson is the crime
Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 of intentionally or maliciously setting fire
Fire
Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition....

 to structures or wildland areas. It may be distinguished from other causes such as spontaneous combustion
Spontaneous combustion
Spontaneous combustion is the self-ignition of a mass, for example, a pile of oily rags. Allegedly, humans can also ignite and burn without an obvious cause; this phenomenon is known as spontaneous human combustion....

 and natural wildfire
Wildfire
A wildfire is any uncontrolled fire in combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area. Other names such as brush fire, bushfire, forest fire, desert fire, grass fire, hill fire, squirrel fire, vegetation fire, veldfire, and wilkjjofire may be used to describe the same...

s. Arson often involves fires deliberately set to the property of another or to one's own property as to collect insurance
Insurance
In law and economics, insurance is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent, uncertain loss. Insurance is defined as the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another, in exchange for payment. An insurer is a company selling the...

 compensation.

Arson (or fire-raising, as it is known in Scotland) is defined as "the malicious burning of the dwelling of another" in common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

.

The elements are:
  1. The malicious
  2. burning
  3. of a dwelling
  4. of another
malicious - for purposes of common law arson "malicious' means action creating a great risk of a burning.
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Encyclopedia

Arson is the crime
Crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 of intentionally or maliciously setting fire
Fire
Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition....

 to structures or wildland areas. It may be distinguished from other causes such as spontaneous combustion
Spontaneous combustion
Spontaneous combustion is the self-ignition of a mass, for example, a pile of oily rags. Allegedly, humans can also ignite and burn without an obvious cause; this phenomenon is known as spontaneous human combustion....

 and natural wildfire
Wildfire
A wildfire is any uncontrolled fire in combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area. Other names such as brush fire, bushfire, forest fire, desert fire, grass fire, hill fire, squirrel fire, vegetation fire, veldfire, and wilkjjofire may be used to describe the same...

s. Arson often involves fires deliberately set to the property of another or to one's own property as to collect insurance
Insurance
In law and economics, insurance is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent, uncertain loss. Insurance is defined as the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another, in exchange for payment. An insurer is a company selling the...

 compensation.

Common law


Arson (or fire-raising, as it is known in Scotland) is defined as "the malicious burning of the dwelling of another" in common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

.

The elements are:
  1. The malicious
  2. burning
  3. of a dwelling
  4. of another
malicious - for purposes of common law arson "malicious' means 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. On the other hand mere discoloration from smoke was insufficient. Actual damage the material from which the structure was built is required. Damage to surface coverings such as carpets and wallpaper is insufficient. Arson was not limited to the burning of wooden structures. Any injury or damage to the structure caused by exposure to heat or flame is sufficient.
dwelling - dwelling means a place of residence.The destruction of an unoccupied building was not considered as arson, "[s]ince 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 if it was occupied as a dwelling.
of another - burning one's own dwelling does not constitute common law arson. However, 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.


Furthermore, "[t]he burning of one's own dwelling to collect insurance did not constitute common law arson. It was generally assumed in early England that one had the legal right to destroy his own property in any manner he chose."

United States


In the U.S., the common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 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
Felony
A felony is a serious crime in the common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors...

, arson may also be prosecuted as a misdemeanor
Misdemeanor
A misdemeanor is a "lesser" criminal act in many common law legal systems. Misdemeanors are generally punished much less severely than felonies, but theoretically more so than administrative infractions and regulatory offences...

,
"criminal mischief
Mischief
Mischief is a vexatious or annoying action, or, conduct or activity that playfully causes petty annoyance. Young children, when they hear of mischief, think of practical jokes....

", or "destruction
Property damage
Property damage is damage to or the destruction of public or private property, caused either by a person who is not its owner or by natural phenomena. Property damage caused by persons is generally categorized by its cause: neglect , and intentional damage...

 of property
Property
Property is any physical or intangible entity that is owned by a person or jointly by a group of people or a legal entity like a corporation...

."
Burglary
Burglary
Burglary is a crime, the essence of which is illicit entry into a building for the purposes of committing an offense. Usually that offense will be theft, but most jurisdictions specify others which fall within the ambit of 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 recent case in California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 of Raymond Lee Oyler and in Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 of Cameron Willingham
Cameron Willingham
Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murder and executed for the deaths of his three young children by arson at the family home in Corsicana, Texas....

.

Some states, such as California, prosecute the lesser offense of "reckless burning" when the fire is set recklessly as opposed to willfully and maliciously. The study of the causes is the subject of fire investigation
Fire investigation
Fire investigation, sometimes referred to as origin and cause investigation, is the analysis of fire-related incidents. After firefighters extinguish a fire, an investigation is launched to determine the origin and cause of the fire or explosion...

.

England and Wales


In English law
English law
English law is the legal system of England and Wales, and is the basis of common law legal systems used in most Commonwealth countries and the United States except Louisiana...

, arson was a common law offence which was recently defined again and codified by the Criminal Damage Act 1971.

Scotland



In Scots Law
Scots law
Scots law is the legal system of Scotland. It is considered a hybrid or mixed legal system as it traces its roots to a number of different historical sources. With English law and Northern Irish law it forms the legal system of the United Kingdom; it shares with the two other systems some...

, the term "willful fire raising" is the equivalent term used instead of arson, but both mean the same.

See also


  • Fire investigation
    Fire investigation
    Fire investigation, sometimes referred to as origin and cause investigation, is the analysis of fire-related incidents. After firefighters extinguish a fire, an investigation is launched to determine the origin and cause of the fire or explosion...

  • Gävle goat
    Gävle goat
    The Gävle Goat , located at Slottstorget in central Gävle, is a giant version of a traditional Swedish Yule Goat figure made of straw. It is erected each year over a period of two days by a local association called the Southern Merchants in time for the start of advent...

  • Herostratus
    Herostratus
    Herostratus was a young man and arsonist; seeking notoriety, he burned down the Temple of Artemis in ancient Greece.-Occurrence:On July 21, 356 BC, Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in what is now Turkey...

  • Insurance fraud
    Insurance fraud
    Insurance fraud is any act committed with the intent to fraudulently obtain payment from an insurer.Insurance fraud has existed ever since the beginning of insurance as a commercial enterprise. Fraudulent claims account for a significant portion of all claims received by insurers, and cost billions...

  • John Leonard Orr
  • John Magno
    John Magno
    John Magno is a Toronto businessman who is currently awaiting trial for arson, allegedly for insurance fraud....

  • Pyromania
    Pyromania
    Pyromania in more extreme circumstances can be an impulse control disorder to deliberately start fires to relieve tension or for gratification or relief. The term pyromania comes from the Greek word πῦρ . Pyromania and pyromaniacs are distinct from arson, the pursuit of personal, monetary or...

  • Reckless burning
    Reckless burning
    Reckless burning is a crime that involves illegally setting fire to something not of building proportions, such as leaves or trash. It is a lesser charge than arson. It is usually enacted and levied in areas of high fire risk to prevent people from starting fires that could easily get out of control....

  • Vítkov arson attack of 2009
    Vítkov arson attack of 2009
    The Vítkov arson attack of 2009 occurred during the night of 18 / 19 April 2009. Three Molotov cocktails were thrown through the windows of a house inhabited by a Roma family. Three people were injured...


Further reading

  • White, J. & Dalby, J. T., 2000. Arson. In D. Mercer, T. Mason, M. McKeown, G. McCann (Eds) Forensic Mental Health Care. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingston. ISBN 0-443-06140-8