Arson and Burning of Property.
The word “Arson” is actually a broad term that covers several specific criminal actions/charges, the two most common of which are Burning Personal Property and Burning Insured Property. These two most frequent charges are similar in many ways.
Arson is the crime of burning a building that is a dwelling or next to a dwelling. A “dwelling” is a house, or another building such as an apartment house, hotel, boarding house, dormitory, hospital, or other building where people live or reside. It is not necessary that the building be occupied at the time of the fire. Also, it does not matter if you own the building or not.
There are two ways Arson can be proved.
In the first method, the Commonwealth must prove three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- First, that you set fire to, burned or caused a building to be burned;
- Second, that the building was a dwelling house, a building adjoining or adjacent to a dwelling house, or a building whose burning resulted in a dwelling house being burned; and
- Third, that you acted willfully and maliciously.
In the second method, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- First, you intentionally aided, counseled or procured;
- Second, a burning;
- Third, of a dwelling house, a building adjoining or adjacent to a dwelling house, or a building whose burning resulted in a dwelling house being burned.
Burning Personal Property.
Burning Personal Property is an offense closely related to arson. In order to prove you guilty of Burning Personal Property, the Commonwealth must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that:
- First, you set fire to/attempted to set fire to/counseled or procured the burning of property that belonged to you or someone else;
- Second, the property in question was worth more than $25;
- Third, you did so willfully; and
- Fourth, you did so maliciously.
Burning Insured Property.
Like Burning Personal Property, Burning Insured Property is related to arson. It involves the intent to collect insurance proceeds. In order to prove you guilty of Burning Insured Property, the Commonwealth must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that:
- First, you set fire to, attempted to set fire to, counseled or procured, the burning of property that belonged to you or someone else;
- Second, the property was insured against loss or damage by fire; and
- Third, you acted with the specific intent to defraud the insurer.
Willful and Malicious.
“Willfully” means intentionally, so this eliminates accidental or negligent burnings. However, a person who negligently ignites fire and then makes no attempt to extinguish or report it may be found to have acted willfully.
“Maliciously” means with ill will against someone.