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New Jersey Arson Laws

If you intentionally set a fire or cause an explosion, then you've committed the offense of arson. Arson is a very serious crime that causes not only property damage, but also endangers people's lives. The harsh penalties that accompany arson offenses reflect the severity of the charges.

Degrees of Arson

New Jersey recognizes four degrees of arson with first degree arson being the most serious offense. A conviction will result in imprisonment of up to 20 years. First degree applies to situations involving arsonists for hire usually seen in cases of insurance fraud; it also automatically applies when an arsonist targets a church, mosque, synagogue, or other house of worship. Just like assault, arson can be classified as aggravated when the offense is considered more severe, in which case the arson is in the second degree. Third degree arson involves recklessly starting a fire with the intent to harm or destroy a structure. Fourth degree arson occurs when the defendant is an official or someone who has a legal duty to prevent the fire and fails to do so.

New Jersey Arson Laws at a Glance

The chart below provides a summary of laws related to New Jersey's arson laws, including links to important code sections.


  • New Jersey Statutes 2C:17-1 (Arson)

Elements of the Crime

Arson in the first degree: Arson for hire or a house of worship target.

Second Degree Arson/Aggravated Arson: This applies where an individual starts a fire or causes an explosion (whether on his/her property or another person's) and the individual did at least one of the following:

  • Purposely or knowingly placing another person in danger of death or bodily injury; or
  • Acted with the purpose of destroying another person's building or structure; or
  • Acted with the purpose of collecting insurance for the destruction/ damage to such property under circumstances which recklessly place a person in danger of death/ bodily injury; or
  • Acted with the purpose to destroying/ damaging a structure in order to exempt it from any state, county, or local planning or zoning law regulation, ordinance or enactment; or
  • Purposely acting to destroy or damage any forest.

Arson in the third degree: When an individual purposely starts a fire or causes an explosion that recklessly endangers a building or a person (death or bodily injury).

Arson in the fourth degree: When an individual has a contractual or legal duty to prevent a fire knows that a fire is endangering life or property, but fails to either put out the fire or warn others.


The specific penalties will depend on the circumstances in the case. Possible penalties include incarceration, fines, and liability for the costs associated with emergency service personnel dispatched to respond to the fire.

First degree arson: First degree arson is punishable by a prison sentence ranging from 10-20 years. If the arson involves a place of worship, the penalty is 15 years without the possibility of parole.

Second degree arson or aggravated arson: Punishable by a prison term ranging from 5-10 years.

  • Aggravated arson is subject to the No Early Release Act (NERT), a sentencing provision in which the convicted defendant is required to serve a minimum term of 85% of the judge-imposed sentence.

Third degree arson: Punishable by a prison term of 5 years.

Fourth degree arson: Punishable by 18 months in prison.

Possible Defenses

  • Mistake of fact
  • Intoxication

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

New Jersey Arson Laws: Related Resources

Get an Attorney's Help for Your Arson Case

If you're facing arson charges in New Jersey, you could be looking at hard time and costly fines. Try to achieve the best case scenario by consulting with an experienced attorney who can evaluate your case. Contact a local criminal defense attorney immediately to learn more.

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