Arson

Historically arson in Massachusetts involved someone burning someone else’s house, not his own home. Years later the statute changed to include burning “a structure”. That includes burning one’s own property. Arson can involve an intention to defraud an insurance company. Massachusetts has several arson statutes. This page focuses on one from of arson in particular, the burning of a dwelling.

What are the Elements of Arson in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 266 Section 1 makes arson a crime.  The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt three things to sustain a verdict of guilty in an arson case.  The elements are as follows:

  1. That the defendant set fire to, burned or caused a building to be burned.  The building does not have to be consumed or actually destroyed by the fire.  Charring is sufficient to prove burning.  The district attorney must simply prove that some portion of the structure had been burned or on fire.

  2. That the building was a dwelling house, a structure that adjoined a dwelling house or whose burning caused a dwelling house to be burned.  Dwelling houses include all buildings where people live or reside.  The definition includes apartments, hospitals, dormitories, boarding house, hotels, tenements and more.  There is no requirement that the building be occupied at the time of the fire but the prosecution must prove that it was capable of being occupied as a dwelling.

  3. That the defendant acted willfully and maliciously.  An accident is not a malicious or willful act.  Malice in the context of arson has been defined as acting with an evil disposition, or wrong and unlawful motive or with the purpose of committing an injurious act. 

What are the Penalties for Arson in Massachusetts?

There is a maximum prison sentence of 20 years that can be imposed if an arson case prosecuted in the Superior Court.  These cases can also be prosecuted in the District Courts where a maximum 2 ½ year house of correction sentence can be imposed. 

I was Charged With Arson but it was an Accident. How can I Prove That?

First of all in this country no defendant is required to prove anything. Instead, the district attorney must prove his or her case beyond a reasonable about. That proof includes proving beyond a reasonable doubt that an accident did not occur. However, to be safe, in many cases we have hired arson experts to demonstrate to a jury either 1) that the fire was an accident or 2) that the prosecution expert made an incorrect conclusion about how the arson started. Hiring the proper expert is the job of your criminal defense lawyer. Our office hires nothing but the best experts for all of our client’s cases.

The Law Offices of Stephen Neyman has defended arson cases for over 20 years.  Many times our office engages the services of expert witnesses to assist in the preparation of our defense.  These experts are often able to show the origin of the fires and can refute the prosecution claims that the fire was deliberately set or that our client was the person who committed the act. 

Calling our office immediately is the best way to protect your rights and get your defense started.  As a leading Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer Attorney Stephen Neyman stands ready to fight for you and prove your innocence.  If you have been charged with arson or any crime in Massachusetts call our office now at 617-263-6800 or  contact us online to discuss your case. 

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