Some crimes are more straightforward than others, depending on the number of factors that could be at play. But some crimes that seem simple could actually have a number of different charges and degrees that are associated with the act. In other words, in some cases it’s possible that the same kind of crime could result in anywhere from six months in prison… to 12 years in prison!
How could someone face such a wide range of penalties for a similar crime?
Let’s look at arson to get a better understanding at how different degrees of a crime can mean big differences in your case.
What Is Arson?
Arson seems pretty straightforward – it’s commonly defined as unlawfully setting fire to property to cause damage. But according to Colorado law, arson is actually defined by four different charges: first, second, third, and fourth degree arson. Each of these charges have different definitions and penalties, which impacts your defense.
Fourth Degree Arson – Even if someone sets fire or causes an explosion unintentionally, they could face arson charges in the fourth degree. Fourth degree arson is defined as recklessly setting or maintaining a fire/causing an explosion that puts individuals or buildings in danger of serious injury.
Endangering a building or occupied structure through arson is a misdemeanor: if the property is valued at under $100, the individual will face a class 3 misdemeanor. Otherwise, the charge is a class 2 misdemeanor.
If a person is endangered, the charges are bumped up to a class 4 felony.
Third Degree Arson – Intentionally setting fire to any property with the intent to defraud is considered third degree arson.
Third degree arson is a class 4 felony in Colorado. Penalties for class 4 felonies include 2-6 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.
Second Degree Arson – Third degree arson pertains to any type of property, including the offender’s own property. But if the property involved in the arson belongs to another person, and is set on fire without the owner’s consent, the charge is bumped up to second degree arson.
The penalties for second degree arson, again, depend on the value of the property. If the property involved is valued at less than $100, the charge is a class 2 misdemeanor. For property valued at over $100, the charge is a class 4 felony.
First Degree Arson – If the property that is set on fire or damaged by an explosive is an occupied building or structure, the arson becomes first degree arson.
A “building” is any structure that is designed for shelter or accommodation, whether or not occupants (which may include man, animals, or property) are present at the time.
An “occupied structure” is a structure that is used and occupied by people or animals, whether or not it is legally defined as a building. An open park pavilion hosting a birthday party, for example, would be considered an occupied structure.
First degree arson is a class 3 felony. Penalties range from 4-12 years in prison and $3,000-$750,000 in fines.
If You Have Been Charged With Arson
Understanding the type of charges you face is crucial for building your defense: do you want to mitigate your charges to reduce your sentence, or eliminate the possibility of a conviction at all? If you have been charged with arson, you have options regardless of which route you decide to take. Contact a Colorado arson lawyer today to begin working on your defense strategy.
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 2012-2016 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.