Arson is defined as intentionally and maliciously setting fire to buildings, wildland areas, cars or other property with the intent to cause damage
The main elements necessary to prove arson are:
- Evidence of a burning and evidence that a criminal act caused the fire. (The accused must intend to burn a building or other structure.)
- Malice, however, does not mean ill will. Intentional or outrageously reckless conduct is sufficient to constitute malice. Motive, on the other hand, is not an essential element of arson.
In most states, only a house used as a residence, or buildings immediately surrounding it, can be the subject of arson. If a house is vacated, is closed up, or becomes unfit for human habitation, its burning will not constitute arson. A temporary absence from a dwelling will not negate its character as a residence.
In New Jersey, there is a mandatory prison term if you are involved in the arson of a doctors office or health care facility.
Generally, the actual presence of a person within a dwelling at the moment it is burned is not necessary. It may, however, be required for a particular degree of the crime. The fact, and not the knowledge, of human occupancy is what is essential. If a dwelling is burned under the impression that it is uninhabited when people actually live in it, the crime is committed.
Absent a statute to the contrary, a person is innocent of arson if that individual burns his or her own property while living there. The common exception to this rule is the burning of one’s own property with an intent to defraud or prejudice the property insurer. In addition, under statutes that punish the burning of a dwelling house without expressly requiring it to be the property of another, a person who burns his or her own property might be guilty of arson. An owner, for purposes of arson, is the person who possesses the house and has the care, control, and management of it. In those states that have maintained the common-law rule that the property burned must belong to another person, an owner who burns his or her house while it is in the possession of a lawful tenant is guilty of arson.
Aggravated Arson is defined under NJ law as starting a fire or explosion:
- which knowingly or purposefully places a person in danger of injury or death;
- to deliberately destroy a structure or building;
- in order to collect insurance or payment; or
- to exempt or avoid building or zoning laws; or
- to destroy or damage forest.
There is also a related charge of failure to control or report a dangerous fire if you do not take reasonable care to control a fire that you legally started.
Arson Penalties in New Jersey
Aggravated Arson is a crime of the 2nd degree with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Arson is a crime of the 3rd degree, with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison.
If you pay or offer other considerations in exchange for the actions described in the arson laws, it is a crime of the 1st degree with a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Failure to control or report a dangerous fire is a crime of the 4th degree, for which the maximum penalty is up to 18 months in prison.
The statute for New Jersey arson laws is N.J.S.C. 2C:17-1.
Remember, you have the presumption of innocence under the law, and that is a powerful advantage.
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