Grading Arson

Criminal Law and Philosophy, 2008

Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 151

15 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2008 Last revised: 1 Jun 2009

Date Written: September 23, 2008


Criminalizing arson is both easy and hard. On the substantive merits, the conduct of damaging property by fire uncontroversially warrants criminal sanction. Indeed, punishment for such conduct is overdetermined, as the conduct threatens multiple harms of concern to the criminal law: both damage to property and injury to people. Yet the same multiplicity of harms or threats that makes it easy to criminalize "arson" (in the sense of deciding to proscribe the underlying behavior) also makes it hard to criminalize "arson" (in the sense of formulating the offense(s) that will address that behavior).

This article asks whether adopting one or more arson offenses is the best way for criminal law to address the conduct in question, or whether that conduct is more properly conceptualized, criminalized, and punished as multiple distinct offenses.

Keywords: Arson, Criminal codes, Endangerment, Grading of offenses, Mischief, Property damage, Special part

JEL Classification: K10, K14

Suggested Citation

Cahill, Michael T., Grading Arson (September 23, 2008). Criminal Law and Philosophy, 2008; Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 151. Available at SSRN:

Michael T. Cahill (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

United States

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