What are the Penalties for Arson?

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  • Written By: Sarah Sullins
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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There are several penalties for arson, including time in jail, fines, probation, counseling, mental health treatment, monitoring by an electronic device such as an ankle bracelet, and court fees. If a person is killed because of the arson, the death penalty may be sentenced in some jurisdictions. Each of the penalties will vary depending in what jurisdiction a person is prosecuted and the severity of the arson. The object, vehicle, or building that was set on fire will also be held into account when sentencing is determined. Some regions will even prosecute differently because of the motive behind the burning.

Arson is categorized in several different ways. First degree generally refers to a fire that is started in a church, home, or any type of public building. Second degree involves the burning of a vehicle or a home that is not occupied by any person. Third degree typically refers to fire set to someone’s personal property. This is also sometimes referred to as misdemeanor arson and will often be combined with other charges, such as criminal mischief or destruction of property.


The most severe type is known as aggravated arson. This is when a person is injured or killed as a result of a fire. A person charged with this type of crime will generally be given harsher penalties, which may include longer jail time or possibly even the death penalty. The death penalty typically only is used if one or more deaths resulted from the fire and only in regions where that sentence is legal. Tougher penalties may also be used if a firefighter becomes hurt while trying to extinguish the fire.

A motive, or reason, for starting a fire can weigh heavily on the punishment in some areas. Some jurisdictions will give out worse penalties for this crime because of certain motives. The reasons that people have for committing this crime will vary and may include insurance fraud, revenge, issues with mental health, or simply personal enjoyment.

The charge of arson is not determined by the amount of damage that is done by a fire; instead, a person is charged because of intentionally lighting it. For this reason, a person may receive one of the penalties even if the fire he started was immediately put out and no harm was done to any property. Different terms are used to described any damage that is done to a person’s property, such as charring, sooting, or scorching.


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Post 4
I am really wondering why is it that there is such a thing as misdemeanor arson?

To me when a person tries to destroy another person's property by setting it on fire, they are committing a very heinous act, that warrants a felony conviction.

Fire is a major cause of death and the fact that it is done on purpose, by someone with intentions, makes it even more dangerous. Because of the heinous nature of the act, even if it just to destroy property, I really do not understand why this would ever be classified as a misdemeanor. Could someone explain the frequency of those charged with felony arson or if arson merely occurs so often, on a small scale that they choose to call it a misdemeanor?

Post 3

@st156 - Intent does not matter if someone is killed. Say someone wants to burn a person's house down and they do happen to kill the person, by mistaking that they are not in the house.

If this were to happen, the person will get charged with murder by arson and not manslaughter.

Because they intended to inflict harm on a person;s property, while death was a possibility, then assuming that they can prove their true intent in court, they would get charged with second degree murder. The death penalty would not be a possibility here, at least in the United States and may not even result in a life sentence, but it is definitely something that is serious and shows that intent does not matter when terrible things happen.

Post 2

@stl156 - To answer your question, yes someone can be tried in criminal court for accidentally starting a fire, but this is usually only done in cases in which someone has harmed other people and they were seen to be negligent in the matter.

Remember, there is such a thing as manslaughter and this can occur as the result of a fire. Say someone were to start a brush fire outside, when a burn ban is in effect. This means that the person, although they were not meaning to cause harm, is in a lot of trouble if they were to injure someone, like say for reckless endangerment or if they kill someone manslaughter or even something like second degree murder if they were trying to burn someone's house down, but not kill the person.

Post 1

I have heard of several stories where people get into a lot of trouble for accidentally starting fires.

I know that a person that is responsible for starting a fire can be held liable in a civil court for damages caused by the fire, if they are seen to have been careless, but what happens in criminal court?

Can a person that accidentally started a fire be tried in criminal court, even though there was no intent to harm involved or does it matter in some cases or even under some circumstances, like what state the person is in and the amount of harm it caused?

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