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Arson Law

NCJ Number
R S Ojeda; R Trevino; R Wells; W R Newman; W Shinego; G W Smith; J Morse; G T McPhee; G E Thompson; E L Wood
Date Published
10 pages
This paper recommends that all States adopt a uniform model arson law that will provide common definitions, specifications of degrees of severity of the offense, and sanctions that are uniformly severe.
Most State arson laws reflect definitions of arson derived from early English common law, which considered arson a crime against property rather than against persons. State arson laws also reflect a number of model laws, notably (1) the Model Arson Law published by the National Board of Fire Underwriters, which specifies different degrees of arson based on the type of property burned; (2) the Model Penal Code drafted by the American Law Institute, which addresses different aspects of the crime; and (3) the more recent Model Arson Penal Law drafted by the Alliance of American Insurers and the Property Loss Research Bureau, which combines many of the characteristics of the two previous models. A review of the arson laws from six States found significant variance from State to State. A uniform model arson law should be adopted by the States, such that identical wording would leave no doubt as to what is involved in an arson charge. In addition to making the definition of arson specific, definitions should be provided for the following terms; building, habitation, vehicle, woodlands, personal property, attempted arson, burning to defraud an insurer, and explosive or incendiary devices. Degrees of offense severity should also be specified. Statutory differences between States would be required to ensure that circumstances unique to a particular State or area of the country are covered. Three bibliographic entries are provided.


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