*This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice.

Pop culture has popularized – and misinterpreted – some of the words you’ll see during a PeopleFinders criminal records check. This is true for the legal term “arson.” Arson describes an illegal act in a court of law, but that meaning needs to be teased out for the general public to move past popularized understandings of the act. If you’re going to make the most of your criminal records check, you’ll need to know how “arson” is used in a legal setting and what, precisely, the term describes.

What Is Arson?

The term “arson” describes the purposeful burning or damaging of a property with fire or explosives. To be accused of arson, a defendant must have burned or otherwise used fire to damage property with malicious or violent intent. A person may also be accused of arson if they used damage caused by a fire or explosive to commit insurance fraud.

The term “arson” has been popularized to describe the intentional destruction of a person’s home or place of work with the assistance of fire. In a court of law, “arson” can describe the purposeful destruction of:

  • A home
  • A forest or other form of protected and owned land
  • Military or Navy stores
  • War munitions
  • Boats, cars and other vehicles
  • A place of business
  • A national monument

For example, the tomb of Karl Marx, which resides in Highgate Cemetery in North London, has been the victim of (the American legal system’s definition of) arson. Because the large bronze bust that rests atop this grave has been bombed with homemade explosives twice, the appropriate legalities could choose to accuse its vandals both of vandalism and arson, even though the grave remained in one piece upon both attacks.

What Are the Different Degrees of Arson?

The degree of arson depends on a variety of factors. If arson is committed against an occupied property as opposed to an abandoned property, for example, the charges placed against the arsonist will change. Minor cases of arson can result in fines, whereas more severe cases – for example, those that may see a significant loss of life – can result in a life sentence.

The two distinct types of arson break down as follows:

  • The defendant set fire to a property or a person with the intention of causing them harm
  • The defendant set fire to a property with the intention of committing insurance fraud

How Do People Use Arson for Insurance Fraud?

Insurance fraud is a complex topic even when arson is not included amongst the applicable charges. This type of fraud comes in two forms: hard fraud and soft fraud.

  • Soft fraud requires a person to pad an insurance claim
  • Hard fraud requires a person to falsify an accident or property damage to receive compensation

Insurance fraud involving arson is almost always hard fraud. If an applicable defendant has purposefully set fire to property they own, and then has then lied about the cause of that fire to their insurance agency, they can legally be charged with both insurance fraud and arson.

How Do Different States Assess Arson?

Arson is prohibited in every state in America. That said, the laws by which arson is measured and a defendant is charged will vary based on the state in which an arson takes place. For example, some states break down the severity of an arson based on the property that was destroyed.

All states, however, recognize federal arson statute. This federal statute prohibits the intentional and violent use of fire to destroy property or harm a person within the legal boundaries of the United States.

What Does Arson Mean In a Criminal Records Report?

If a person accidentally sets fire to property or person, but there is no damage to either body, then some states will choose to treat the reported incident as an accident, and the applicable party will receive a misdemeanor.

However, a person accused of intentional arson will be charged with a felony. These individuals will spend a minimum of two years in prison if found guilty of arson and may face increasingly severe consequences based on the damage or injuries caused by their involvement in the incident.

When performing a criminal records check at PeopleFinder, make sure to assess the severity of a person’s arson charge. While, again, different states will treat cases of arson by assessing different variables, you can accurately look to the punishment awarded to the defendant to determine whether or not their involvement in such an incident was intentional.