Arson, in the law of the United States, the act of willfully and maliciously setting fire to a house, building, or other property.
Under common law, arson was the willful and malicious burning of the house of another person and was considered a felony punishable by death. The penalty for arson now consists of differing periods of penal servitude or simple imprisonment. If the act results directly or indirectly in the death of a person, it is treated according to the modern definition of murder.
The act of burning one's own house to defraud an insurer or destroy the property of another on the premises was also a crime, usually a misdemeanor, in common law; in some states of the U.S., however, this act is now defined as a lower degree of arson and consequently is punished less severely. Under the penal statutes of some states, including New York, arson in the first degree is setting fire to any building in which a human being is present.
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