Arson is the criminal burning of buildings, vehicles and other personal property. The most serious arson crimes in New York involve burning with explosives or crimes that injure an innocent person. In all, there are five degrees of arson in this state.
Arson in the 5th degree (1st degree is the worst) is the intentional damage to another’s property (without consent) by intentionally causing a fire or explosion. This could be virtually any property, such as clothing.
Arson in the fourth degree is intentionally setting a fire or causing an explosion, but the burning of the property is reckless instead of intentional. This is like when someone plays with fire around a building or vehicle and accidentally causes such damage. Only buildings and vehicles apply to fourth-degree arson in New York, and there is also an affirmative defense if the fire starter is the only one with any interest at all in the property.
Arson in the third degree is a bit more heinous because it occurs when the building or vehicle is intentionally burned instead of just recklessly. There is an affirmative defense to this, as well. But it must be that all persons with an interest in the property consented, the burning was for a lawful reason (such as destroying old property for disposal), and it was not apparent at the time that any other buildings or vehicles would be destroyed.
Arson in the second degree has no affirmative defense even if it is the defendant’s own building or vehicle. This is because it requires that someone was actually in the building or vehicle at the time. This law is to protect innocent occupants, as well, so an affirmative defense would not make sense. However, to be guilty, the defendant must have either known that a person was in the building or vehicle or could have known of such reasonable possibility by looking at the circumstances.
Arson in the first degree is rather complicated. First, it is also an intentional use of fire to intentionally damage a building or vehicle. Second, it requires one of the following: 1) use of either an incendiary device; 2) the fire or explosion was caused by an explosive; or 3) it seriously hurt an innocent person or was done for financial gain (i.e. insurance fraud). Third, an innocent person must be in the building or motor vehicle at the time. Fourth, the defendant must have actually known or had reason to know that there was a reasonable possibility of someone being present at the time.
The following classifications of felonies (misdemeanor for fifth-degree arson) apply to each of these crimes:
1st-degree arson: Class A-I felony
2nd-degree arson: Class B felony
3rd-degree arson: Class C felony
4th-degree arson: Class E felony
5th-degree arson: Class A misdemeanor
YPDCrime.com: Arson Statutes in New York