U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Arson To Conceal Other Crimes

NCJ Number
B A McMullin; J E Moss; F Muller; J W Price; R D Robinson; D L Seyse; D A Thompson; M J Van Keuren; R F Wagner; D L Zoellick
Date Published
14 pages
The establishment of a crime, such as burglary or homicide, in association with a fire can establish motive and intent for arson which, together with circumstantial evidence, can produce an arson conviction.
Intent is an essential element in establishing that arson has been committed. Motive for arson is not the same as intent, but the establishment of motive can lend substance to circumstantial evidence of intent. Basic motivations for arson include fraud, to dramatize a political ideology, for emotional satisfaction, to conceal other crimes, for vengeance, to provide a scenario for heroic actions, vandalism, and as an expression of mental illness. Courts have held that when a person is responsible for a destructive fire while engaged in the commission of a felony, then arson has been committed, even though there was no specific intent in the mind of the accused to set the fire or destroy the building. In such a case, the establishment of evidence of the commission of a felony on the premises where a fire occurred shortly thereafter can tie the crime of arson to the person charged with the felony. Where a felony has been committed, the motive and intent of starting the fire to cover up the crime are assumed, but where no felony has been committed in association with a fire can be helpful, providing evidence that the fire was of incendiary origin can be established. Evidence of motive, along with other evidence that may tie a particular person to the fire, can be part of a persuasive network of circumstantial evidence. In some cases, confronting a suspect with the motive for the arson may lead to a full confession. Examples are provided of cases that involved the use of arson to cover up other crimes. Five footnotes are provided.


No download available