CRS 18-4-102 is the Colorado statute that defines the crime of first-degree arson. Arson in the first degree is the most severe kind of arson. It involves burning a building or occupied structure owned by someone else without the owner's consent. A conviction for first-degree arson in Colorado is a Class 3 felony.
There are 3 other degrees of arson. They are:
- Second-degree arson (CRS 18-4-103),
- Third-degree arson (CRS 18-4-104), and
- Fourth-degree arson (CRS 18-4-105).
First-degree arson under CRS 18-4-102 is more severe than these other crimes. It is more severe because it involves buildings intended for occupation.1 Other degrees of arson involve unoccupied buildings or merely endangering them with fire.
- Seeing that Grace is at home, Toby slips a pipe bomb through the letter slot in her front door and it explodes.
- George and Sarah set a fire as they leave work.2
There are several legal defenses for people who have been accused of arson in the first degree. Some of the most common include:
- You were not the one who set the fire,
- The fire was an accident, and
- The owner consented to the fire.
First-degree arson is a Class 3 felony in Colorado. The penalties for a conviction typically include:
- Between 4 and 12 years in jail, and
- At least $3,000 in fines.
You could also have to pay the victim restitution for the property damage.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense attorneys will explain:
- 1. What is first-degree arson under CRS 18-4-102?
- 1.1 What does it mean to “own” a building under CRS 18-4-102?
- 1.2 What is a “building or occupied structure”?
- 1.3 How badly does the building have to be damaged?
- 2. Legal defenses to arson in the first degree
- 2.1 Mistaken identity: It was not you who set the fire
- 2.2 You did not knowingly set the fire
- 2.3 The owner of the property consented
- 3. Penalties for a conviction for first-degree arson in Colorado
- 4. Related offenses to first-degree arson under CRS 18-4-102
1. What is first-degree arson under CRS 18-4-102?
In Colorado, first-degree arson is described by CRS 18-4-102. It prohibits knowingly setting a fire or explosion that damages someone else's building or occupied structure. That building has to be owned by someone else. The arson has to be done without that person's consent.
The crucial factors that make arson a first-degree arson are:
- Someone else owns the building,
- You set fire to a “building or occupied structure,” and
- The fire or explosion damaged the building.
1.1. What does it mean to “own” a building under CRS 18-4-102?
You commit first-degree arson if you set fire to someone else's building.
An owner under CRS 18-4-102 is anyone else with a possessory or a proprietary interest in the building.3 This means you can be liable for first-degree arson if you set fire to the following buildings:
- A building you are renting,4 or
- A residence that still has a bank mortgage or security interest on it.5
1.2. What is a “building or occupied structure”?
First-degree arson convictions require proof that you set fire to someone else's “building or occupied structure.”
A building is something that was designed to house people or animals, or to store property.6 Someone does not have to be inside the building at the time of the offense. Buildings under CRS 18-4-102 include a:
- A truck's trailer,7
- Sleeping car,
- Airplane, or
- Mobile home.8
An occupied structure is an area or enclosure which can be used by people or animals.9 They can include:
- An outdoor dog kennel,10
- A campground,
- A tent, or
- An occupied car.
However, “occupied structures” do have to actually be occupied at the time of the arson offense. You also have to know that someone is in the “occupied structure” to commit arson in the first degree.
1.3. How badly does the building have to be damaged?
You have to damage or destroy someone else's property. Merely scorching or discoloring a building with a fire or explosion is not enough.11 However, it is not necessary to burn the building to the ground.12 Instead, the materials composing the structure have to ignite or change.13
2. Legal defenses to arson in the first degree
Legal defenses can combat a charge for first-degree arson. The most common legal defenses to a charge under CRS 18-4-102 are:
- It was not you who set the fire,
- You did not knowingly set the fire, and
- The owner consented.
2.1. Mistaken identity: It was not you who set the fire
Prosecutors have to prove that it was you who committed first-degree arson. They have to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. If you can present evidence that it was not you, it can fight an arson charge.
This is the mistaken identity defense.
2.2. You did not knowingly set the fire
First-degree arson requires the fire or explosion was knowingly set. You can defend against an arson charge under CRS 18-4-102 with evidence that you did not act knowingly. If you were acting recklessly or negligently, you cannot be held liable for first-degree arson.
2.3. The owner of the property consented
If the owner of the property consented to it being set ablaze, you cannot be held liable for arson.
However, CRS 18-4-102 recognizes a broad concept of ownership of property. If someone else has any possessory or proprietary interest in the property, they also own it. You would have to have their consent, as well.
3. Penalties for a conviction for first-degree arson in Colorado
First-degree arson under CRS 18-4-102 is a Class 3 felony. The penalties of a conviction usually include:
- 4 to 12 years in jail, and
- A minimum of $3,000 in fines.
First-degree arson offenses in Colorado that use explosives and cause a serious injury can face a sentence enhancement. This makes the offense a “crime of violence.”14 Convictions carry between 10 and 32 years in jail.
Additionally, you could have to pay victim restitution.
4. Related offenses to first-degree arson under CRS 18-4-102
Some crimes in Colorado are related to first-degree arson. Some of these offenses are charged alongside arson under CRS 18-4-102. Some others have similar elements to arson:
- Second-degree arson (CRS 18-4-103). Arson in the second degree does not involve a building or occupied structure.
- Third-degree arson (CRS 18-4-104). This type of arson involves setting fire to property to defraud someone.
- Criminal mischief (CRS 18-4-501). This is the crime of damaging someone else's property. It is a lesser included offense of first-degree arson.15 Criminal mischief can be a felony or a misdemeanor.
Call us for help…
If you have been charged with first-degree arson, you can use a lawyer. Contact our Colorado criminal defense lawyers for help. We can help you raise the legal defenses that protect your future.
See Lipschitz v. People, 53 P. 1111 (1898).
C.R.S. § 18-4-101(3).
C.R.S. § 18-4-101(1).
People ex rel. VanMeveren v. District Court, Supra.
C.R.S. § 18-4-101(1).
People v. LeFebre, Supra.
People v. LeFebre, Supra.
C.R.S. § 18-1.3-406(2)(a).