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Comparing Three Types Of Arson Under Virginia Law

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In the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is either a misdemeanor or felony offense to use fire or explosives to damage structures or property. Legally referred to as arson, this criminal offense has severe consequences. Though the precise nature of the penalties can change based on the type of structure or property that was the subject of arson.

  1. Arson of Dwelling

The state laws against arson of a dwelling house appear under Code of Virginia Section 18.2-77. This section makes it illegal to maliciously set fire to or otherwise burn a dwelling house, a term which includes, but is not limited to:

  • Houses;
  • Apartments;
  • Manufactured homes;
  • Hotels;
  • Hospitals;
  • Mental health facilities;
  • Railroad cars;
  • Boats;
  • Vessels;
  • River craft;
  • Jails;
  • Prisons;
  • Churches; and
  • Other places where people usually dwell or lodge.

When a person commits arson of an unoccupied dwelling house, it is a Class 4 felony. The Virginia punishment for a Class 4 felony is imprisonment for two to 10 years and criminal fines up to $100,000.

If the dwelling house in question is occupied at the time of arson, however, it is a more serious felony crime. While it is still a Class 4 felony crime, in these cases, the punishment includes imprisonment for five years to life and criminal fines up to $100,000.

  1. Arson of Meeting House

The state laws against arson of a meeting house appear under Code of Virginia Section 18.2-79. This section makes it unlawful to maliciously set fire to or otherwise burn a meeting house, a term which includes but is not limited to:

  • Courthouses;
  • Townhouses;
  • Institutions of higher education;
  • Academies;
  • Schoolhouses;
  • Banking houses;
  • Warehouses;
  • Storehouses;
  • Factories;
  • Mills; and
  • Similar buildings that are not typically occupied or used at night.

When a person commits arson of an unoccupied meeting house, it is a Class 4 felony, punishable as outlined above: imprisonment for two to 10 years and criminal fines up to $100,000. If the meeting house in question is occupied at the time of arson, however, it is a Class 3 felony. The Virginia punishment for a Class 3 felony is imprisonment for five to 20 years and criminal fines up to $100,000.

  1. Arson of Personal Property

The state laws against arson of personal property appear under Code of Virginia Section 18.2-81. This section makes it unlawful to maliciously set fire to or otherwise burn someone else’s personal property, including grains and other crops. It is also illegal to commit arson of personal property with the intent to commit insurance fraud.

When a person commits arson of personal property, the applicable charge changes based on the value of property in question. For example, arson of:

  • Less than $1,000 in personal property — Is charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor and punishable by a maximum of 12 months in jail and $2,500 in criminal fines; or
  • More than $1,000 in personal property — Is charged as a Class 4 felony and punishable as outlined above.

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