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43 J. Crim. L. Criminology & Police Sci. 53 (1952-1953)
Legal Aspects of Arson

handle is hein.journals/jclc43 and id is 65 raw text is: LEGAL ASPECTS OF ARSON

William C. Braun
The author is Chief Special Agent of the National Board of Fire Underwriters.
He presented the following article at the Eighth Annual Seminar in Arson Detection
and Investigation, Public Safety Institute, Purdue University, West Lafayette,
Indiana. April 28-May 2, 1952.-EDIToR.
Arson is a peculiar crime. It is committed covertly and in secrecy,
and consequently, the admissibility and sufficiency of evidence are prob-
lems to be solved. A conviction, if possible, is generally the result of
an accumulation of numerous bits of circumstantial evidence. The
prosecuting attorney, of necessity, is impelled to offer evidence bordering
on the imaginary line which separates the admissible from the inad-
Now for a moment let us consider the old common law crime of
arson which consisted of the wilful and malicious burning of the house
or outhouse of another man. It could not be committed by burning
an unoccupied dwelling. While the house had to be occupied, it was
not necessary that the occupant be in the building at the time of the
fire. The crime also included setting fire to any outhouses which
were used in connection with the dwelling and which were located close
enough so that the flames would endanger the occupants of the dwell-
ing. The crime was against the security of the home and not against
property and, therefore, the occupant could not commit the crime by
burning the house in which he lived. It is easy to see that arson at
common law was confined to very narrow limits. Other burnings were
punishable, not as arson, but as high misdemeanors.
To remedy the inadequacies of the common law, the legislatures of
the various states gradually began to extend and broaden the definition
of the crime, until today it covers all kinds of buildings and structures,
even including personal property. Now the crime of arson includes the
burning of the one's own property, whereas, at common law, it was
limited to the burning of the dwelling house occupied by another person.
While the legislative enactments in some states were adequate, in
others they fell short. The Model Arson Law was designed not only to
bring about uniformity but to correct the deficiencies of the common
law and the statutory laws. As will be seen later, the Model Law
covers practically any intentional burning that can occur and makes
it much easier than before to convict the arsonist. At the present time,
all states are operating under this law, with the exception of Maine,
Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.

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