The federal crime of arson is defined by 18 U.S.C. § 81 as follows.
Whoever, within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns any building, structure or vessel, any machinery or building materials or supplies, military or naval stores, munitions of war, or any structural aids or appliances for navigation or shipping, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be imprisoned for not more than 25 years, fined the greater of the fine under this title or the cost of repairing or replacing any property that is damaged or destroyed, or both.
If the building be a dwelling or if the life of any person be placed in jeopardy, he shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both.
For a person to be charged with the crime of arson by the federal government, the alleged arson must take place “within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” which is to say it must involve federal property. Given the large portions of the United States that qualify as the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the federal government, this requirement is often met without a person realizing that they are on federal property.
The penalty for arson in the federal court system is quite severe, with a term of incarceration in federal prison for up to 25 years applying for all arson cases. In those federal arson cases where a residence (dwelling) is involved, or a life in endangered, the maximum penalty is life in prison. As such, any person facing an arson charge is well advised to seek an attorney at once.