Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of arson


  1. Some countries define "arson" as the intentional setting of a fire to a building in which people live; others include as "arson" the intentionally setting of a fire to any building. In either case, this is a very serious crime and is punishable by a long jail sentence.

Definition of arson


    latin verb ardere = to burn, to inflame; latin noun ardor, -oris m = fire, glow


  • Rhymes: -ɑː(r)sən


arson (plural arsons)

  1. A crime of setting a fire with intent to cause damage.

    * 2006, Paul Chadwick, Concrete: Killer Smile, Part two, p.34
    Arson, like we thought. three punks doused a car, lit it, and took off.

See also


  • Alphagram: anors
  • roans
  • sonar
  • sorna

Further reading

Arson is the crime of deliberately and maliciously setting fire to structures or wildland areas. It may be distinguished from other causes such as spontaneous combustion and natural wildfires caused by lightning for example. The study of the causes is the subject of fire investigation. Fires set to the property of another or to one's own property may be for an improper purpose, such as to collect insurance compensation.

Legal definitions

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.

The prosecutor must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Arson was punished at common law as a felony in the eighteenth century. 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." 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 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. Arson may also be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, "criminal mischief", or "destruction of property." Burglary also occurs, if the arson involved a "breaking and entering". A criminal may be sentenced to death penalty if arson occurred as a method of homicide, as was the recent case in California of Raymond Lee Oyler and in Texas of Cameron Willingham.

England and Wales

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


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


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     salacious
2.     prima facie
3.     landed property
4.     lex situs
5.     lex fori
6.     respondent
7.     charge
8.     beyond reasonable doubt
9.     lex causae
10.     entitlement