Fire is a powerful force. When it overtakes your home or business, the destruction can be devastating. Some fires are unfortunate accidents. However, when a fire occurs because someone intentionally set it, that is a crime: arson.
Arson isn’t a simple crime to define. A recent fire in an El Jebel restaurant is the perfect example. The suspect broke into the restaurant and prepared a plate of nachos for himself before stealing cash. Because he used the stove flame, he may potentially face an arson charge if it can be shown that his actions posed a threat to property or people in the shopping center.
Here’s what you need to know about the different levels of arson charges in Colorado, plus the penalties faced if convicted.
Colorado Arson Defined
Under Colorado law, arson is defined as knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally burning, setting fire to, or using an explosive device to:
- Destroy or damage the property of someone without their consent
- Destroy or damage your own property
Colorado has four levels of arson charges – first, second, third, or fourth-degree arson. What level you are charged with depends on a few factors:
- Who owned the property
- The type of property involved in the crime
- The value of the property
- Whether or not the fire was set recklessly, intentionally, or knowingly
Arson in CO: Misdemeanor or Felony?
In Colorado, arson can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. It is considered a misdemeanor if:
- There was no fraudulent intent in the burning of property (with the exception of an occupied structure or building)
- Less than $100 worth of damage occurred
- The fire did not endanger others
It can be charged as a felony if:
- The property set ablaze was an occupied structure or building
- The intent of burning the property was to defraud another
- Arson was committed knowingly or intentionally, but not recklessly
Penalties for Arson in CO
Punishment for committing arson in Colorado depends on the value of the property as well as the type of property.
Fourth Degree Arson
Arson counts in the fourth degree when someone recklessly or knowingly causes an explosion or starts a fire on their property or someone else’s property. It must put either a person in danger of serious injury or death or that person’s occupied structure or building in jeopardy of damage.
This level of arson can range from a Class 3 misdemeanor to a Class 4 felony. For a Class 3 misdemeanor, you can receive up to 90 days in jail. For a Class 2 misdemeanor, you may be looking at one year in jail. For a Class 4 felony, the penalty rises to six years behind bars.
Third Degree Arson
Third-degree arson is committed when someone intentionally damages property with the intent to defraud another. As a Class 4 felony, it is punishable by up to six years in prison.
Second Degree Arson
This is perpetrated when someone knowingly destroys or damages the property of another – with the exception of a building or occupied structure – by setting fire to it, burning it, causing it to be burned, or using explosives.
As a Class 3 felony, you can face up to 12 years in prison.
First Degree Arson
Arson merits the first degree when you knowingly destroy or damage another’s property that is an occupied structure or building by setting fire to, burning, or using explosives on it. It’s a Class 3 felony, punishable by as much as 12 years behind bars.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.