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Article 126- Arson

Article 126 deals with arson. The text of the statute contains two parts. They are as follows.

  1. Any service member who maliciously and willfully sets fire or burns a dwelling (inhabited at the time of committing the arson) or any structure, moveable or immovable, which to the accused's knowledge contained a human being at the time, will be held guilty of aggravated arson.
  • Any service member who maliciously and willfully sets fire to or burns the property of another person, except as mentioned in sub section (a), will be held guilty of simple arson.

In both these cases, the service member will be punished as decided at a court martial.

Elements under Article 126

  1. Aggravated arson

a) Inhabited dwelling

  • The defendant has set fire to or burned an inhabited dwelling.
  • The dwelling was owned by a certain individual and held a certain value.
  • The act was malicious and willful.

b) Structure

  • The defendant set fire to or burned a certain structure.
  • The act was malicious and willful.
  • The structure contained a human being at the time it was set on fire.
  • The accused was aware that the structure contained a human being when he set it on fire or burned it.
  • The structure was owned by a certain individual and held a certain value.
  1. Simple arson
  • The accused set fire to or burned the property of another person.
  • The property held a certain value.
  • The act was malicious and willful.

Explanation for elements

  1. In general

An accused is said to have committed aggravated arson, if he has put a human life in danger through his actions. In simple arson, the property of another person should be injured.

It is immaterial whether a person was injured or not. But the prosecution has to show that the accused set the fire maliciously and willfully, and not by accident or negligence.

  • Aggravated arson

Inhabited dwelling: A service member can be held guilty of committing aggravated arson, whether the victim was the owner of the dwelling or a tenant. A store or a shop is not an inhabited dwelling, unless it was occupied as a dwelling.

Structure: Aggravated arson is also committed when the accused has set on fire or burned any structure, either movable or immovable, like a boat, theater, tent, church, auditorium or any sort of edifice or structure, whether private or public, when the accused knew that a human being was present inside the structure.

Property damage: The dwelling or the structure need not be materially injured or consumed in the fire; it will suffice to show that the fire was communicated to a part of the dwelling. Any charring or actual burning is sufficient to file a charge of arson, but mere discoloration or scorching by heat is not.

Ownership or value of the property: To charge a person with aggravated arson, the ownership or the value of the dwelling or the structure is immaterial, but is has to be alleged and proved, to permit the charge in the included case of simple arson.

Simple arson: Simple arson can be defined as the malicious and willful setting fire to or burning of another person's property under circumstances that do not amount to aggravated arson.

Maximum punishment for an offense under Article 126

  1. Aggravated arson

The accused can be punished with a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all allowances and pay and 20 years of confinement.

  • Simple arson
  • If the value of the property is $500 or less, the guilty can be punished with dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all allowances and pay and 1 year of confinement.
  • If the value of the property is more than $500, the guilty can be punished with a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all allowances and pay and 5 years of confinement.

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