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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: December 4, 2017 12:30 PM
From: Senator Lisa M. Boscola
To: All Senate members
Subject: Clarifying the Definition of Arson
I plan to introduce legislation to amend Chapter 33 of the Crimes Code which pertains to arson, criminal mischief and destruction of property. Recently, I came across an article about a case in which an individual allegedly set fire to his home with the intention of destroying it. This incident was not apparently to receive funds from an insurance claim, or for any purpose other than, according to a neighbor’s testimony, the individual hated the house and wanted to be rid of it.

While the individual was charged with four counts of arson, two were dismissed due to the defense argument that the law does not warrant a charge of arson if the individual is setting fire to a structure that is theirs. While charges of arson, and specifically aggravated arson, can be applied to a perpetrator if the fire becomes a danger to other individuals or emergency responders, the base action of setting a structure ablaze because it is owned by that person cannot carry the charge due to the wording of the law.

In consultation with the State Fire Commissioner’s Office, I feel that there is a need to correct this issue with the law, and specifically clarify that a charge of arson can be warranted if a person sets fire to their own home. Whether an individual may feel that it is within their right to set fire to a structure because they own it and want to be rid of it, there are processes and safer options available to the homeowner, including proper demolition of a structure. Other alternatives include renovation of a home, selling the home, or even abandonment of a structure which could result in seizure by a county for failure to pay taxes. Setting a home ablaze for no other purpose other than to get rid of it does not constitute an appropriate or rational choice.

I hope you will join me in supporting this legislation. Please feel free to contact my office with any questions.

Introduced as SB1042