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What constitutes arson?

On Behalf of | Nov 7, 2022 | Criminal Defense

In the state of New Jersey, arson is defined as the malicious act of burning or setting a property on fire. Typically, when people hear the term arson, they think it relates to a burning building, but that’s not entirely true. Arson can also apply to burning property such as a car, a boat or a forest. 

There are four forms of arson charges: First, second, third or fourth degrees. The level of a charge depends on what the criminal intent was. How is intent defined?

Here’s what you should know:

Committing arson requires intent

For a crime to be arson, someone has to intentionally start a fire – and that fire must either damage someone’s property without their consent or be designed to damage property with the intent to defraud an insurance company.

People may also end up with an arson charge after they recklessly start a fire that gets out of control, even if they didn’t mean to damage property. For example, a campfire may not have been fully extinguished, burning down a forest. Or, someone may have tossed a match, after lighting a cigarette, on highly flammable material. They may not have meant for the fire to damage anything, but they did intentionally set it.

As stated above, arson charges are categorized by four different degrees. These charges are categorized by whether the arson was intentional or reckless rather than the severity of a fire. For example, someone hired to start a fire may have a first degree charge (the most serious), while someone who didn’t report an accidental fire could be charged with a fourth degree arson charge (the least serious).

If you’re being accused of intentionally starting a fire leading to property damage, then you may need to know your legal rights. An experienced defense can help you minimize the impact of the charges on your future.