What Constitutes Attempted Arson?

Most state statutes list attempted arson as a felony.
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Attempted arson laws generally include three possible charges, including "attempted willful and malicious arson," "attempted reckless arson," and "attempted aggravated arson." Attempted arson charges usually require proof of some actual physical act, including either an attempt to ignite a fire and/or attempting to cause burning or scorching. You can be charged with attempted arson if you counsel someone else to commit attempted arson or by agreeing to participate in an act of attempted arson.

General Elements

The attempted arson laws of most states mirror those in effect in the state of California. The California Penal Code sections relating to attempted arson include Penal Code sections 450 through 457.1. In most states, an attempted arson charge is described as attempting to distribute any flammable, explosive or combustible materials, or attempting to burn any structure, land or personal property belonging to another person.

According to Shouselaw.com, which is operated by a California criminal defense attorney, attempted arson usually requires proof of three elements to support a conviction. These elements include an attempt to set fire to, or the attempted burning of, "a structure, forest land, or property," attempted "commission of a malicious or willful act," and an attempt to start a fire inside or on the exterior of any structure, land or personal property.

Property of Another Person

Except in the case of insurance fraud, most attempted arson statutes apply only to the burning of property belonging to another person. Even attempting to burn someone else's trash can result in attempted arson charges being filed.


There are several possible defenses to an attempted arson charge. The most common defense is the failure of the prosecution to prove all three elements of attempted arson. Other defenses can include mistaken identity or that you are the owner of the property you attempted to burn. In most cases, intoxication is not a defense to an attempted arson charge.

If you did not actually participate in the attempted burning, you can still be charged as an accomplice before or after the fact if you aid or counsel another person to attempt to commit arson.

Aggravated Attempted Arson

Aggravated attempted arson charges generally require additional factors. These include a defendant having a prior felony conviction, attempted arson during commission of another felony, attempted arson for the purpose of insurance fraud, attempted arson resulting in damage to property or land, or attempted arson committed with the specific intent to injure or kill another person.

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