CRS § 18-4-103 defines the Colorado crime of second-degree arson as damaging someone else’s property using fire or an explosion, when that property is something other than a building or occupied structure.
Criminal charges for second-degree arson can be filed as:
- petty offenses,
- misdemeanors, or
- felonies depending on the value of the damaged property.
The language of § 18-4-103 reads as follows:
(1) A person who knowingly sets fire to, burns, causes to be burned, or by the use of any explosive damages or destroys, or causes to be damaged or destroyed, any property of another without his consent, other than a building or occupied structure, commits second degree arson.
(2) Second degree arson is a class 4 felony, if the damage is one hundred dollars or more.
(3) Second degree arson is a class 2 misdemeanor, if the damage is less than one hundred dollars.
In addition to second-degree arson, there are 3 other types of arson in Colorado. These are:
- First-degree arson (CRS 14-4-102). This prohibits knowingly damaging someone else’s building or occupied structure with fire or explosives.
- Third-degree arson (CRS 18-4-104). This makes it a crime to set fire in order to defraud someone. It often involves an attempt to collect fire insurance money.
- Fourth-degree arson (CRS 18-4-105). This makes it illegal to endanger someone else or their property by setting a fire.
In this article, our Denver Colorado criminal defense attorneys will explain:
- 1. What is second-degree arson under CRS 18-4-103?
- 2. Legal defenses to a charge of second-degree arson in Colorado
- 3. What are the penalties of a conviction for arson in the second degree?
- 4. Related offenses to second-degree arson under CRS 18-4-103
1. What is second-degree arson under CRS 18-4-103?
Second-degree arson in Colorado is defined by CRS 18-4-103. This statute makes it a crime knowingly to damage someone else’s property with a fire or explosion without their consent. It does not cover buildings or occupied structures that get damaged.
The factors that make an arson accusation second-degree arson are:
- The property is owned by someone else,
- The damaged property was not a building or occupied structure, and
- There was damage to the property.
1.1. What is a “building or occupied structure” in Colorado’s arson law?
Colorado’s second-degree arson law only covers property that is not a building or occupied structure.
A building is a structure that was designed to house animals, people, or property.1 A building does not actually have to be occupied at the time for there to be arson.
Examples of a “building” under CRS 18-4-103 include a:
- Garage, including a detached garage,
- Recreation vehicle,
- Trailer of a truck,2 and
- Mobile home.3
An occupied structure under CRS 18-4-103 is an enclosure or area that can be used by people or animals. To be an “occupied structure” under Colorado’s arson laws, the area does have to be occupied at the time of the offense.4
Occupied structures can include:
- A campground,
- A tent,
- An outhouse,
- An occupied car, or
- An outdoor dog kennel.5
Setting fire to any of these objects leads to charges of arson in the first degree. Second-degree arson charges under CRS 18-4-103 are for damaging any other type of property.
1.2. Who is the “owner” of a building?
CRS 18-4-103 outlaws committing arson on someone else’s property. An owner is anyone with a possessory or a proprietary interest in the property.6
1.3. What constitutes “damage”?
Second-degree arson requires there to be property damage.
Completely destroying the property is not necessary for a second-degree arson accusation.7 However, there has to be more than just scorch marks or discoloration.8 Colorado courts have decided that the property has to change in the fire or ignite in flames.9
2. Legal defenses to a charge of second-degree arson in Colorado
There are numerous legal defenses you can use to defend against a charge of arson in the second degree. The most common are:
- You did not knowingly start the fire,
- The owner of the property consented to the fire, and
- The defendant was falsely accused.
2.1. You did not knowingly start the fire
You can only be liable for second-degree arson if you knowingly cause a fire or explosion. It is up to the prosecutor to prove this element of the crime. They have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
2.2. The property owner consented
If the owner of the damaged property consented to its destruction, you cannot be liable for second-degree arson. For consent to be a defense, though, all of the property owners have to consent to its destruction.
Example: Ted and Daniel want to burn David’s mattress to celebrate a Super Bowl win. David agrees.
2.3. The defendant was falsely accused
Sometimes people levy false accusations to get another person into trouble. If the defense accuser can impeach the accuser’s credibility or show there is insufficient evidence to convict the defendant, criminal charges should not stand.
3. What are the penalties of a conviction for arson in the second degree?
The punishment for second-degree arson turns on the value of the property damaged.
Value of Property
Colorado 2nd-Degree Arson Penalties
|Less than $300||Petty offense: |
|$300 to less than $1,000||Class 2 misdemeanor: |
|$1,000 to less than $2,000||Class 1 misdemeanor: |
|$2,000 to less than $5,000||Class 6 felony: |
|$5,000 to less than $20,000||Class 5 felony: |
|$20,000 to less than $100,000||Class 4 felony: |
|$100,000 to less than $1,000,000||Class 3 felony: |
|$1,000,000 or more||Class 2 felony: |
Judges can also force defendants to pay restitution to the victim.10
4. Related offenses to second-degree arson under CRS 18-4-103
Certain crimes are related to second-degree arson in Colorado. Some of these are charged along with second-degree arson charges under CRS 18-4-103:
- First-degree arson (CRS 18-4-102). This is the crime of damaging a building or occupied structure with a fire or explosion.
- Third-degree arson (CRS 18-4-104). This involves setting something on fire for the purpose of fraud.
- Fourth-degree arson (CRS 18-4-105). This is the crime of putting other people or property at risk by starting a fire.
- Criminal mischief (CRS 18-4-501). This is the crime of knowingly damaging someone’s property without their consent.
Contact us for help…
You can use legal help if you have been accused of second-degree arson. Contact our Colorado criminal defense lawyers for the representation you need.
- C.R.S. § 18-4-101(1).
- People v. Simien, 671 P.2d 1021 (Colo. App. 1983).
- People ex rel. VanMeveren v. District Court, 619 P.2d 494 (Colo. 1980).
- C.R.S. § 18-4-101(1).
- People v. Moyer, 635 P.2d 553 (Colo. 1981).
- C.R.S. § 18-4-101(3).
- People v. LeFebre, 546 P.2d 952 (Colo. 1976).
- People v. LeFebre, Supra.
- People v. LeFebre, Supra.
- CRS 18-4-103. Prior to March 1, 2022, 2nd-degree arson was a class 4 felony when there was $100 or more in damage (carrying a minimum of $2,000 in fines and/or two to six years in prison). And 2nd-degree arson was a class 2 misdemeanor when there was less than $100 in damage (carrying a minimum fine of $250 and/or 3 months to 1 year in jail). SB21-271.