CRS 18-4-104 is the Colorado statute that defines the crime of third-degree arson. This crime involves intentionally using fire or explosives to damage something in order to defraud someone. It is a Class 4 felony.
There are 3 other classes of arson in Colorado:
- Fourth-degree arson (CRS 18-4-105), which involves endangering someone else or their property by setting a fire,
- Second-degree arson (CRS 18-4-103), which involves damaging someone else's property with fire, and
- First-degree arson (CRS 14-4-102), which involves damaging someone else's building or occupied structure with fire.
- George sets his banana stand on fire so he can send his insurance company a claim for money.
The 2 most common legal defenses to third-degree arson are:
- You did not intend to set the fire or defraud anyone, and
- You were not the one who set the fire.
A conviction for third-degree arson under CRS 18-4-104 carries the following penalties:
- A minimum $2,000 fine,
- 2 to 6 years in jail, and
- Paying victim restitution.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense attorneys will explain:
- 1. What is third-degree arson under CRS 18-4-104?
- 2. What are legal defenses to third-degree arson?
- 3. Penalties for a conviction under CRS 18-4-104
- 4. Similar offenses to third-degree arson under CRS 18-4-104
1. What is third-degree arson under CRS 18-4-104?
Third-degree arson is laid out in CRS 18-4-104. This statute forbids intentionally damaging property with fire or explosives in order to defraud someone. It is often charged against people suspected of trying to collect insurance money.1
The factors that make arson third-degree arson are:
- The fire or explosion were intentional,
- The damage was done for the purpose of defrauding someone.
1.1. How much damage does there have to be?
CRS 18-4-104 requires property damage for a conviction. The property does not have to be destroyed.2 However, there has to be more than discoloration or scorch marks.3 Courts have drawn the line at a fire or explosion that ignites or changes the nature of a piece of property.4
1.2. What does it mean to defraud someone?
Part of third-degree arson is intentionally defrauding someone. Fraud involves obtaining property or money by using misleading or untruthful statements.
In the context of third-degree arson, the fraud usually happens in the insurance claim. Courts pay attention to recent insurance payments and decisions to see if there was fraud.5
2. What are legal defenses to third-degree arson?
If you have been accused of third-degree arson in Colorado, there are legal defenses you can raise. The 2 most common are:
- You did not have an intention to defraud anyone or to set the fire, and
- The fire was set by someone else.
2.1. You did not intend to set the fire or defraud
You can only be liable for third-degree arson if you intended to do 2 things:
- Damage something with a fire or an explosion, and
- Defraud someone else.
Prosecutors have to prove you had these intentions. They have to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt.
Evidence that the fire was just an accident can show you had neither intention.
2.2. It was not you who set the fire
Prosecutors also have to prove that you were responsible for the fire. You can fight this claim by presenting evidence that it was someone else.
This is the legal defense of mistaken identity.
3. Penalties for a conviction under CRS 18-4-104
The penalties for a conviction of third-degree arson are serious. Violating CRS 18-4-104 is a Class 4 felony. A conviction carries:
- At least $2,000 in fines,
- Between 2 and 6 years in jail, and
- Payment of victim restitution.
A hidden penalty for a conviction for arson in the third degree is the mark it puts on your criminal background. Third-degree arson is the only arson offense that involves fraud. A conviction, therefore, is a felony-level fraud offense. Getting a job after your release is especially difficult with a prior fraud conviction.
4. Similar offenses to third-degree arson under CRS 18-4-104
Some offenses are similar to third-degree arson under CRS 18-4-104. Others are often charged alongside arson in the third degree. These include:
- First-degree arson (CRS 18-4-102). This involves using fire or an explosion to damage someone else's building or occupied structure.
- Second-degree arson (CRS 18-4-103). This is the same as first-degree arson, but does not involve a building or occupied structure.
- Fourth-degree arson (CRS 18-4-105). This is the crime of starting a fire that endangers someone else or their property.
- Criminal mischief (CRS 18-4-501). This involves damaging someone else's property without their consent. It does not require fire or an explosion.
Call us for help…
Contact our Colorado criminal defense lawyers today if you have been accused of committing arson in the third degree. We can help you raise the legal defenses you need to fight the accusation.
See People v. Elkhatib, 632 P.2d 275 (Colo. 1981) (defendant increased his insurance coverage months before a fire, and asked for a copy of his policy 5 days before the blaze).
People v. LeFebre, Supra.
People v. LeFebre, Supra.
See People v. Elkhatib, Supra.