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The crime of arson contains separate defining aspects, or elements. The main definition of arson is, in essence: "the intentional and malicious burning with the intent to destroy property". Arson is one of the most serious crimes, as it can often result in the loss of life, as well as property damages in the high figures. Arson is punishable by substantial prison term or death.

Modern legislation has now extended the legal definition of arson to include "the burning or exploding of commercial and public buildings". Many of the elements of legal definition of arson are such because they pertain to insurance coverage standards. Many arson cases are perpetrated by owners of property looking to garner a big - and fraudulent - payoff, and due to these cases, the insurance industry has greatly tightened their indemnity regulations.

Malice plays a prominent role in determining the truth in an instance of destructive fire. There is a tricky area here, where, as a rule in the past, a person who dwelled in a residence that was burned could not be held accountable for the crime of arson. But, as more and more insurance fraud cases came to pass, the courts as well as insurance adjusters put increasingly more scrutiny and burden of proof upon those most suspect of the crime of arson. Modern arson in legal terms involves degrees, which is used in many states in order to determine exactly the level of criminal intent involved in an arson case. Motive, contrarily, is not an essential element in determining arson.

Vacant homes, abandon or condemned properties, if burned, cannot be called a scene of arson.

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