The elements of arson are setting a fire that reaches a structure and, in turn, burns said structure. Arson law also treats explosions as burnings. The common law rule is that however slight the burning, the arson is complete, so it doesn't matter how much burning takes place.
A few states have arson laws that distinguish between "sooting" (smoke damage), "scorching" (blistering), "charring" (external surfaces destroyed), and so forth, but the main point is that a structure does not have to burn to the ground for it to be considered arson. The police and firefighters determine the circumstances to be considered for arson like the kind of structure and amount of damage.
A fire can be considered arson if it occurs inside a house only if the item damaged qualifies as a permanent fixture. While sinks, lighting, and appliances qualify as permanent fixtures, personal property such as furniture, clothing, or documents do not.
Technically speaking, when it comes to arson, there's a difference between "setting a fire" and "burns" in that it is possible to set fire to something, but it gets extinguished before any burning occurs. The precise wording of the state statute will show if that particular state considers the act of setting a fire an arson even if no burning occurs. In cases like these, it is important to have an experienced attorney to aid in your case.
Arson is a crime of general intent meaning that arson was committed "willfully and maliciously." All that's necessary for an arson charge is proof that the person intentionally started the fire. The criminal intent with arson is intent or purpose to start a fire, even if there's no intent to burn a structure. A fire inspector must then testify in court that he/she also suspected arson, and then an expert witness must be called to support the fire inspector's opinion.
Arson is categorized into 1st degree (homes, schools, churches), 2nd degree (unoccupied structures, vehicles), and 3rd degree (personal property). Since arson is a crime against possession, not ownership, it's possible for a person to be charged with burning their own house, or committing arson against themselves.
State statutes do not categorize arsons in terms of motive while there's clearly differences between arson-for-profit, revenge arson, and pyromania. Some states reserve their harshest punishments for "arson with intent to defraud." Some states have the offense of "aggravated arson" which is similar to felony murder, but carries additional penalties if a firefighter gets injured while trying to put out the fire.
A person helping with the crime is usually charged with arson rather than being an accomplice to the crime. Pouring gasoline on the floor of a building or possessing firebombs may be offenses related to arson under some state statutes. Arson involving damage to federal property is almost always prosecuted in federal court, as is anything (warehouses, truck facilities) involving interstate or foreign transport.
Arson is a serious charge that usually doesn't involve getting off with a warning. An experienced criminal attorney can help you if you are facing arson charges. The penalties can be severe, but an experienced criminal attorney can get you the best possible results.
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