Under Colorado law, defacing or destroying written instruments, landmarks, or other property is a criminal offense. A conviction for a class 1 misdemeanor defacing crime can result in up to 18 months in jail, $5,000 in fines, and payment to repair or replace the defaced property.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What are Defacing Crimes?
- 2. Defacing or Destruction of Written Instruments, C.R.S. 18-4-507
- 3. Defacing, Destroying, or Removing Landmarks, Monuments, or Accessories, C.R.S. 18-4-508
- 4. Defacing Property, C.R.S. 18-4-509
- 5. Defacing Posted Notice, C.R.S. 18-4-510
- 6. Related Offenses
1. What are Defacing Crimes?
Defacing an object involves destroying or altering the physical appearance. Defacing a written instrument could include erasing information, altering the letters to appear to say something else, or writing in additional information. Defacing property could include painting, graffiti, writing or etching on an object, or chipping away, denting, or smashing the property.
The specific defacing charges and penalties depend on the type of object involved, the extent of the damage and value of property destroyed. The charges for defacing crimes range from a Class 1 petty offense to a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Potential defenses to a defacing crime depend on the specific situation. In order for a prosecutor to convict an individual of defacing property, they have to show that they knowingly damaged the property. For example, if someone lost control of their vehicle and smashed into a wall on someone’s property, they probably would not be guilty of defacing or destroying property because they did not intentionally cause the damage.
2. Defacing or Destruction of Written Instruments, C.R.S. 18-4-507
“Every person who defaces or destroys any written instrument evidencing a property right, whether vested or contingent, with the intent to defraud commits a class 1 misdemeanor.” C.R.S. 18-4-507.
A written instrument evidencing a property right could be a title to real property, title to a motor vehicle, a deed or another formal document. These documents are generally treated as evidence of ownership. These documents can also be used to transfer ownership in the property even if they do not have possession of the property.
For example, when borrowing money from a lender to purchase a car, the lender may hold onto the title until the loan is paid off. The individual may be able to use and drive the car, but the lender holds the evidence of ownership. The lender may even sell the title while the driver maintains possession of the car.
If anyone makes changes to the document, erases sections, crosses out language, alters names, or otherwise defaces the instrument with the intent to defraud, they may have committed a Class 1 misdemeanor.1 Under C.R.S. 18-4-507, the penalty for a Class 1 misdemeanor includes between 6 and 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
3. Defacing, Destroying, or Removing Landmarks, Monuments, or Accessories, C.R.S. 18-4-508
Prohibiting the defacing of landmarks or monuments is aimed at preventing changes or alterations to property boundaries. Any person who knowingly cuts down a boundary tree, defaces or removes any location stake, or any other legal land boundary monument, to the damage of any person or intending to designate a mining claim commits a Class 2 misdemeanor.2
In cities and suburbs, property lines may be more clearly marked in relation to other surrounding properties, roadways, and other features. However, historically, property boundaries were not quite as clear. In the days before GPS and satellite imagery, the property would be marked by stakes, trees, landmarks, survey monuments, or corner posts. The property line could potentially be changed by pulling up a boundary stake and placing it another position. Defacing or removing landmarks could increase an owner’s property size, or decrease the property size of another person.
Under Colorado law, a violation of C.R.S. 18-4-508 is a Class 2 misdemeanor. The penalty for a Class 2 misdemeanor includes between 3 and 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
4. Defacing Property, C.R.S. 18-4-509
Most public or private property is subject to protection under the defacing property statute in Colorado. This includes destroying, defacing, removing or damaging any:
- Historical monuments
- Public property
- Private property
Defacing property includes structural damage, drawing, writing, painting, using ink, or any other substance, such as acid. Caves are also protected from defacing, which includes tunnels, mines, aqueducts, or excavation sites. This also includes breaking locks, doors, or structures designed to enclose a cave.3
Anyone who aids in or permits the defacing of public or private property can also be criminally charged. Even if they did not physically participate in defacing the property, helping someone to deface property may be enough to result in criminal charges.
Defacing property under C.R.S. 18-4-509 is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries the maximum penalties of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The court does have the discretion to impose alternative sentencing, depending on the nature of the offense. However, multiple violations and a second or subsequent conviction for defacing property is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which may result in up to 18 months in jail. In addition to fines, any person convicted of defacing property may be ordered to repair the damaged property or compensate the owner for the damage.
5. Defacing Posted Notice, C.R.S. 18-4-510
Under C.R.S. 18-4-510, “any person who knowingly marks, destroys, or removes any posted notice authorized by law commits a class 1 petty offense.”
Public notices are intended to give notice to the public about government actions, business changes, or other required information. A notice could indicate that a building is going to be torn down, a business is getting a liquor license, or a residential property is going to be sold.
A Class 1 petty offense carries the maximum penalty of up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $500.
6. Related Offenses
The general crime of “criminal mischief,” is a related offense to defacing crimes. A person who commits vandalism in Colorado and the destruction of property could potentially be charged with defacing property or criminal mischief. However, the penalties for criminal mischief can be much more severe, depending on the value of the property damaged.
6.1 Criminal Mischief, C.R.S. 18-4-501
Damaging someone’s property is considered criminal mischief under C.R.S. 18-4-501. Criminal mischief involves knowingly damaging real property or the personal property of another. Even if the property was co-owned by one of the people who damaged the property, they could still be charged with criminal mischief.
The penalties for criminal mischief depend on the value of the property destroyed. If an individual destroys multiple items, then the value is calculated as the total combined damage.4 Penalties range from a Class 3 misdemeanor, up to a Class 2 felony.
Penalties for Criminal Mischief by Value of Property Destroyed
Value of Property
Class of Offense
Less than $300
Class 3 misdemeanor
Up to 6 months
Up to $750
$300 to less than $750
Class 2 misdemeanor
Up to $1,000
$750 to less than $1,000
Class 1 misdemeanor
Up to $5,000
$1,000 to less than $5,000
Class 6 felony
Up to $100,000
$5,000 to less than $20,000
Class 5 felony
Up to $100,000
$20,000 to less than $100,000
Class 4 felony
Up to $500,000
$100,000 to less than $1 million.
Class 3 felony
Up to $750,000
Over $1 million
Class 2 felony
Up to $1,000,000
Call us for help…
If you were charged with defacing or destroying property, please contact our attorneys at the Colorado Legal Defense Group.
- C.R.S. 18-4-507
- C.R.S. 18-4-508
- C.R.S. 18-4-509
- C.R.S. 18-4-501