Arson, in the law of the United Kingdom and the United States, the act of willfully and maliciously setting fire to a house, building, or other property. Under common law, arson was the willful and malicious burning of the house of another person and was considered a felony punishable by death. The penalty for arson now consists of differing periods of penal servitude or simple imprisonment. If the act results directly or indirectly in the death of a person, it is treated according to the modern definition of murder. The act of burning one’s own house to defraud an insurer or destroy the property of another on the premises was also a crime, usually a misdemeanor, in common law; in some states of the U.S., however, this act is now defined as a lower degree of arson and consequently is punished less severely. Under the penal statutes of some states, including New York, arson in the first degree is setting fire to any building in which a human being is present. (1)
- Aggravated arson
Notes and References
Criminal Law: Crimes Against the Habitation Arson
Introduction to Arson
The common law definition of arson is the malicious and voluntary burning of the dwelling house of another. The phrase of another means in the possession of another. Therefore, a landlord can be guilty of arson of his or her own house that is leased to a tenant. A dwelling house is a house where people customarily sleep, although no person need be in the house at the time of the burning. The term may include outbuildings associated with the house, such as barns and stables, especially where they are enclosed with the house by a common hedge, fence, or wall.
Malicious and voluntary means that the arsonist must intentionally, or perhaps recklessly, burn the house. No malice in the literal sense of ill will is required. The house need not be entirely or even largely destroyed. The burning of a small portion of the house, such as a part of the floor, wall, or door is sufficient. However, more than a blackening by smoke or scorching of the wood is necessary to constitute arson.
Modern statutes have generally altered the common law definition of arson in two ways. They provide that the burning of property other than dwelling houses and the burning of one’s own property to defraud an insurance company also constitute arson.” (1)
Notes and References
- Information about Arson in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
Guide to Arson
In this Section
Crimes Against Property (including Larceny, Embezzlement, False Pretenses, Property Robbery, Extortion, Receiving Stolen Property and Forgery) and Crimes Against the Habitation (Arson and Burglary).
The Legal History of Arson in Chinese Law
This section provides an overview of Arson in Chinese Law
- Legal Biography
- Legal Traditions
- Historical Laws
- History of Law
- Arson in Chinese Law in the Oxford International Encyclopedia of Legal History (Oxford University Press)
- The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Political and Legal History (Oxford University Press)
- Arson in Chinese Law in the Dictionary of Concepts in History, by Harry Ritter
- A Short History of Western Legal Theory, by John Kelly