Fraudulently Setting Fire to a Dwelling House
If a person is found guilty of fraudulently setting fire to a dwelling house, he is guilty of a Class H felony. A person who commits a Class H felony must be sentenced to punishment between four and 25 months, depending on prior convictions. A person with no prior convictions may receive community or intermediate punishment, such as probation. However, any person who commits a Class H may receive active jail time as punishment.
A dwelling house is defined as a house that is inhabited, meaning that someone lives there. Inhabitation can be permanent, temporary or seasonal and does not require actual occupation. However, if the house is under construction and no one has moved in yet, between tenants or abandoned, it is not inhabited and therefore not a dwelling house. Under North Carolina law, a dwelling house includes mobile homes, manufactured-type houses and recreational trailers.
A person does not have to own the house for that house to be his dwelling house. For example, a tenant would commit fraudulently setting fire to a dwelling house, not arson, when he burns a dwelling house of which he is the sole inhabitant.
For the purposes of burning crimes, a dwelling house includes outbuildings within the curtilage of the dwelling house. The curtilage is the grounds around the dwelling house which is commonly used with the dwelling house, such as a house’s yard. The curtilage can be enclosed or unenclosed.
The crime of fraudulently setting fire to a dwelling house includes both the act of burning the dwelling house and the act setting fire to the dwelling house. To prove the element of burning, a partial burning or even the slightest charring is sufficient evidence. However, North Carolina courts have held that a “mere discoloration” is not sufficient evidence of a burning. A “burning” of a dwelling house is distinct from “setting fire to” a dwelling house, and the two terms have different meanings. Setting fire to a dwelling house means causing fire to come into contact with the property, even if the property is not actually burned, and does include circumstances when the property is “merely scorched” or “discolored by heat.”
A person does not have to actually burn or set fire to his dwelling house to violate the fraudulently setting fire to a dwelling house statute. The statute also makes it a crime for a person to “aid, counsel or procure” the burning of his dwelling house.