First Degree Arson
Arson is typically defined as purposely setting fire to a building or occupied structure that belongs to someone else, and without the owner’s permission. Arson also applies to purposely burning, or damaging such a building using explosives of any kind. The elements of arson as described above constitute First Degree Arson, a class 3 felony in Colorado. If an explosive is used, Colorado statutes require that the act be considered a crime of violence for sentencing purposes.
Second Degree Arson
Second Degree Arson is different from First in that it generally applies to burning or setting fire to property that is not a building or occupied structure.Second Degree Arson may be charged as a class 2 misdemeanor if the damage done is less than one hundred dollars. If the damage is over that amount, the statutes direct that it be charged as a class 4 felony.
Third Degree Arson
Third Degree Arson still requires intentional burning, setting fire to, or damage by explosive of property. However, Third Degree Arson applies to intentional damage of any property with intent to defraud. Arson in the first and second degrees both require that the damaged property belong to someone else. However, Third Degree Arson is committed when someone destroys any property, including their own, with intent to defraud. This charge most commonly arises when someone is accused of burning property in hopes of collecting an insurance payment for the loss. Like Second Degree Arson, Third Degree Arson is also a class 4 felony.
Fourth Degree Arson
So far, all three variations of arson charges have required intent to set fire to a building, structure or property. Fourth Degree Arson does not always require intent to damage property, as it is possible to be guilty of Fourth Degree Arson for recklessly starting a fire that then results in damage to property. It is also possible to be convicted for knowingly doing so, as well as knowingly or recklessly starting a fire that puts people or property in danger of being burned, damaged, etc. Fourth Degree Arson can be charged as a class 4 felony if a person is endangered, or a class 2 misdemeanor if only property is endangered. If the endangered property has a value of less than $100, the charge should be a class 3 misdemeanor.
The information above is taken from Colorado Revised Statutes §§18-4-101 through 18-4-105, and supporting caselaw. More detailed information is available in those statutes.
Defenses to arson charges may focus on the intent requirements contained in most of the arson charges, whether that is a direct intent to cause damage or harm, or intent to defraud, or both. The primary issue in your arson case may easily be identity, or any number of other defenses which should be discussed with an attorney. As with any criminal charge, the prosecution is required to prove each part of each element of every charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Most people accused of arson will benefit from a discussion with an experienced criminal defense attorney regarding whether the specific facts and evidence in their case match the elements of the various charges.
Lesser Included Offenses
Sometimes a defendant can be convicted of a lesser included offense, instead of the offense charged. It can be difficult to identify possible lesser included offenses based on a single read of the applicable statutes. Although in arson cases there are significant distinguishing elements between the various degrees based upon intent, or type of structure, etc, there is no substitute for competent representation if you are facing arson charges. Almost every defendant in an arson case would benefit from a detailed analysis of what they are up against in terms of charges, and the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case. These cases often involve complex expert reports from fire investigators, and sometimes defense teams may want to have evidence reviewed by their own experts.
If you are charged with, or anticipate being charged with, any variation of arson, call our office and schedule a consultation right away.