James K. Minick

James K. Minick

Arson is the intentional act of setting fire to a object, building, or property. In most cases it is a felony, but not always – for example, in North Carolina, setting fire to woods or fields is a class 2 misdemeanor.

Arson can be committed for various reasons ranging from covering up a crime to attempting to cause violence or mischief. Since arson involves the use of fire and has the potential for serious damage or injury, arson is a serious crime that is punished quite severely. Although an individual may commit arson to target a specific building or property, a fire can be wild and uncontrollable and lead to the creation of a much larger blaze that can harm other people or property.  As such, punishing arson severely is done in an effort to deter individuals from engaging in arson and protecting public safety.

The following offenses outline the required elements for each offense and the potential punishment an individual faces upon conviction. To obtain a conviction, the State must prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

First-Degree Arson

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Willfully and maliciously
  2. Burn
  3. The dwelling house or other buildings within the curtilage
  4. Of another
  5. While someone is present inside the dwelling

Although the statute does not provide these elements, these are the common law elements of arson. For Element 2, the structure that is set on fire does not need to actually burn. All that is required is that some part of it is consumed or charred. This could be seen if some small part like a door is burnt or the wallpaper was charred. Charring is when something is reduced to coal. For Element 3, the dwelling must be inhabited. That however does not mean somebody has to be in the dwelling, just as long as someone regularly stays there. For Element 4, the dwelling must be in another person’s possession, it cannot just be the defendant’s dwelling. For Element 5, there must be a person in the building. This is what distinguishes first and second degree arson from each other.

Punishment

If a person is guilty of first-degree arson, they are guilty of a Class D felony under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-58.

Second-Degree Arson

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Willfully and maliciously
  2. Burn
  3. The dwelling house or other buildings within the curtilage
  4. Of another

Punishment

If a person is guilty of second-degree arson, they are guilty of a Class G felony under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-58.

Burning a Public Building

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Wantonly and willfully
  2. Set fire to, or burn, or cause to be burned, or aid, or counsel, of procure the burning of
  3. The State Capitol, the Legislative Building, the Justice Building, or any other building owned or occupied by any agency of state or local government

Punishment

If a person is guilty of burning a public building, they are guilty of a Class F felony under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-59.

Burning a Schoolhouse

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Wantonly and willfully
  2. Set fire to, or burn, or cause to be burned, or aid, or counsel, or procure the burning of
  3. Any schoolhouse or building owned, used, or leased by an educational institution

Punishment

If a person is guilty of burning a schoolhouse, they are guilty of a Class F felony under N.C. Gen. Stat § 14-60.

Burning an uninhabited house, factory, store, etc.

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Wantonly and willfully
  2. Set fire to, or burn, or cause to be burned, or aid, or counsel, or procure the burning of
  3. An uninhabited house, coach house, outhouse, stable, warehouse, office, shop, mill, barn or granary, or building used or intended to be used in carrying on a trade or manufacture.

Punishment

If a person is guilty of burning an uninhabited house, factory, store, etc., they are guilty of a Class F felony under N.C. Gen. Stat § 14-62.

Burning a Church or Other Religious Building

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Wantonly and willfully
  2. Set fire to, or burn, or cause to be burned, or aid, or counsel, or procure the burning of
  3. A church, chapel, or meetinghouse

Punishment

If a person is guilty of burning a church or other religious building, they are guilty of a Class F felony under N.C. Gen. Stat § 14-62.2.

Burning a Building Under Construction

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Wantonly and willfully
  2. Set fire to, or burn, or cause to be burned, or aid, or counsel, or procure the burning of
  3. A building or structure in the process of construction
  4. That is intended for use as a dwelling or in carrying on a trade or business

Punishment

If a person is guilty of burning a building under construction, they are guilty of a Class H Felony under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-62.1.

Burning One’s Own Dwelling House

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Wantonly and willfully or for a fraudulent purpose
  2. Set fire to, or burn, or causes to be burned, or aid, or counsel, procure the burning of
  3. A dwelling house occupied by the defendant, whether as owner or not, or a building designed or intended for use as a dwelling and owned by the defendant

Punishment

If a person is guilty of burning one’s own dwelling house, they are guilty of a Class H felony under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-65.

Burning Personal Property

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Wantonly and willfully
  2. Set fire to, or burn, or cause to be burned, or aid, or counsel, or procure the burning of
  3. Any goods, wares, or personal property of any kind
  4. With intent to injure or prejudice the insurer, creditor, person who owns such property, or any other person

Punishment

If a person is guilty of burning personal property, they are guilty of a Class H felony under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-66.

Arson or Burning Resulting in Serious Injury To a Firefighter or EMT

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Commit a felony burning offense included in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14, 15 and
  2. A firefighter or emergency medical technician
  3. Suffers bodily injury
  4. While discharging or attempting to discharge his or her duties
  5. On the property or proximate to the property

Punishment

If a person is guilty of arson or burning resulting in serious injury to a firefighter or EMT, they are guilty of a Class E felony.

Setting Fire to Woods and Fields

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Willfully or negligently
  2. Set fire or cause to be set fire
  3. Any woods, lands, or fields
  4. In any county that is under the protection of the Department of the environment and Natural Resources in its work of forest fire control

Punishment

If a person is guilty of setting fire to woods and fields, they are guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-137.

Setting Fire to Grass, Brushlands, or Woodlands

Intentional Burning

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Intentionally
  2. Set fire to
  3. Any grassland, brushland, or woodland
    1. Of another or
    2. Owned by the person, unless he or she

i.     Notifies adjacent property owners and

ii.     Watches the fire and ensures that it does not damage adjoining lands

Punishment

If a person is guilty of setting fire to grass, brushlands, or woodlands, they are guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-136 if it is their first offense. If it is their second offense, they are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-136.

Burning with Intent to Damage Property

Elements

A person is guilty if they:

  1. Set fire to
  2. The grassland, brushland, or woodland
  3. Of another
  4. With willful of malicious intent
  5. To damage the property

Punishment

If a person is guilty of burning with intent to damage property, they are guilty of a Class I felony under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-136.

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