Crimes and Justice series 3:
The offence of arson in common law is an offence at the degree of felony. It’s defined by Lord Coke to be the malicious and voluntary burning of the house of another, by night or day.
Modern legislation has extended the definition of arson to include the burning or exploding of commercial and public buildings—such as restaurants and as well as structures—such as bridges.
The act of burning any insured dwelling, regardless of whether it belongs to individuals or not constitutes arson especially if it is done with an intention to defraud the insurer.
Inclusively, the common-law rules that stated that the property burnt must belong to another person has been completely eliminated by statute in some states.
The main element that must be present for the successful prove of arson is the evidence of burning of building no matter how small it is. Not minding the small part or all or that the building belongs to another person, if evidenced that the criminal act had been caused by fire.
In essence, the accused must have intended to burn the building or structures.
Through the absence of a statutory description of the criminal act then the action can’t be classified. However, the act must be proven to be malicious and not accidental. Malice leads to ill will. Intentional or outrageous act suffices to constitute malice. Many a time Motive is not an essential element but a link up factor of arson.
Unless where a legislation extends the crime to other property, 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.
Meanwhile, a temporary absence from a dwelling will not negate its character as a residence.
Generally, the actual presence of a person within a dwelling at the moment it is burnt 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. Hence, if a dwelling is burnt under the impression that it is uninhabited when people actually lived in it, the crime is committed.
Additionally, a person is innocent of arson if that individual burns his or her own property while living there except where a legislation had prohibited it. The common exception to this rule is the burning of one’s own property with an intent to defraud or prejudice the property insurer. However, a person who burns his or her own property might be guilty of arson.
To determine Who is the owner for purposes of arson, it is the person who possesses the house and has the care, control as well as management of it.
In those states that have maintained the common-law rule that the property burnt 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.
It Also includes, where a person had set his own property on fire with the intention to harm the building of his neighbour.
It is termed as the offence of Arson under the criminal code act and identified as mischief act under the penal code act in the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Amongst other descriptions of the offence of Arson are; Any person who wilfully and unlawfully sets fire to any of the following:
-Any Building or Structure whether completed or not;
-Any Vessel, whether completed or not;
-Any Stack of cultivated vegetable produce, or of mineral or vegetable fuel;
-A Mine, or the workings, fittings, or appliances of a mine;
The person is guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life. Meanwhile, any attempt even without success to commit the offence of arson is rewardable with fourteen years imprisonment.
My references are;
West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Section 443 (a, b, c, d), 444 criminal code act 1990 LFRN
Section 326 penal code act 1990 LFRN
These are just the author’s opinion on the written article and will not be liable for any inconsistency therewith.
SAHEED, Afeez Ayinde
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