Login
Copyright

What is Arson? - Definition & Law

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Burglary: Definition, Degrees & Statistics

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 Definition of Arson
  • 1:07 Arson Degrees &…
  • 2:23 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Bonn

Amy has taught college and law school writing courses and has a master's degree in English and a law degree.

What constitutes arson, and how has the definition of this crime changed over time? This lesson explains the elements of arson as well as why there are various degrees of the crime.

Definition of Arson

Arson was originally defined as the willful and malicious burning of the dwelling place of another. When it comes to understanding arson, it's useful to recognize that this crime is one that, in many jurisdictions, is defined more specifically than it used to be. Further, the severity of punishment for an arsonist is based on the danger to people that the particular act of arson may have posed.

The elements of arson were originally determined by the common law, or rules that were derived from English custom and court cases. These common law requirements dictated that the crime of arson would be committed by the perpetrator burning the dwelling place of another person, and the act had to be willful and malicious. Over the years, state legislatures have enacted specific requirements that have both broadened the definition of arson and added specifics. For example, many state statutes no longer require that the perpetrator burn another person's dwelling for the crime to constitute arson. Arson can occur with the burning of other types of buildings and areas of land.

Arson Degrees and Classifications

Many crimes are classified in terms of degrees, with more severe punishments reserved for those who commit more egregious crimes. Under many state statutes, arsonists would be more severely punished for burning homes that were occupied than they would be for burning other buildings that are either not occupied or likely to be occupied. The former would constitute first degree arson in some jurisdictions, while the latter might constitute second degree arson. If a perpetrator could have reasonably expected people to be within the building at the time of the arson, regardless of whether or not people were actually present, that could be sufficient to merit a conviction of a higher degree of arson under some state statutes.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher
What is your educational goal?
 Back

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 95 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support