South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Federal Arson Jurisdiction Did Not Cover Arson on State Lands
Description Federal court dismissed an indictment against a confessed arsonist who set grass fires that were suppressed by the U.S. Forest Service. Since all of the fires had been set and burned on state land, not federal land, federal criminal law did not apply to the actions.
Topic Criminal Law
Key Words Federal Jurisdiction; Arson; Forests
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Grant, a volunteer fireman, set nine separate grass fires in Montana during the dry summer of 2003. All fires were set on state lands, but the Forest Service is the primary responder for fires in the area in question. One fire was only a few feet from federal land, but did not touch federal land. Grant pled guilty to willfully setting fires on the public domain. When he appeared for sentencing in federal court, he raised the question of whether the federal government had jurisdiction over the crimes.
Decision

Indictment dismissed. The federal court has no jurisdiction over such arson. Even though the management of fires was under federal supervision, and the federal government incurred costs in fighting the fires, the fires were all on state-owned land. Federal law did not specify that the act of setting fires on non-federal land, that did not injury federal land, could be subject to federal criminal law.

Citation U.S. v. Grant, --- F.Supp.2d --- (2004 WL 1123829, D. Mont., 2004)

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