Arson is one of society’s oldest known crimes and is classified as a property crime to law enforcement agencies. It can cost a life and/or a significant amount of money in damages. It is time consuming and difficult to investigate because the burden of proof that the fire was intentionally started is often hard to substantiate. In this essay, I will discuss the historical common law for arson and the current statue in the state of Florida as well as compare how the elements of the crime have changed over time. Furthermore, I will discuss possible reasons for the changes and also suggest new changes in the statue based on society’s needs today.
As stated before, arson is one of the oldest known crimes throughout the world. During the 18th century, it was defined as “the malicious and willful burning of the house or outhouses of another”. (Samaha, 395). Lord Coke defined arson as the “malicious and voluntary burning of the house of another, by night or day”. (Lectlaw) The 3 elements of the crime were as follows: first, there must be a burning of the house, or some part of it, however small it may be. Second, the house burnt must belong to another individual; however if a man sets fire to his own house with a view to burn his neighbor's, and does so, it is at least a grand misdemeanor, if not a felony. Lastly, the burning must have been both malicious and willful. Under the common law offense of arson, the crime did not extend beyond burning someone else’s house. Malice was an essential element and had to be established independently of any showing of determination. Malice was usually understood as an aspiration to harm the victim of the unlawful act, and was incidental from the character of the action which in turn generally resulted if the burning were intentional. Motive was normally not an element of arson; however it was often used to assume intent, such as