It is a federal crime to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any property used in interstate or foreign commerce or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce. An owner-occupied residence not used for any commercial purpose does not qualify as property "used in" commerce or commerce-affecting activity, and an arson of such a dwelling, therefore, is not subject to federal prosecution.
Appellant threw a Molotov cocktail through a window into a home owned and occupied by his cousin. Appellant was subsequently convicted of arson and his conviction was affirmed. The Supreme Court then granted cer. and on appeal, he argued the statute did not apply to buildings not used for commercial purposes, and challenged the constitutionality of such an application. The government argued that the residence was "used" in the "activity" of receiving natural gas, a mortgage, and an insurance policy.
Did the federal arson statute cover the arson of an owner-occupied dwelling not occupied for any commercial purpose?
In unanimously reversing the appellant's conviction, the Supreme Court held that the provision covered only property currently used in commerce or in an activity affecting commerce and an owner-occupied residence not used for any commercial purpose did not qualify.