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Law School Case Brief

Copeland v. People - 2 P.3d 1283 (Colo. 2000)

Rule:

The mens rea requirement of the fourth degree arson statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-4-105(2), knowingly or recklessly, does not apply to the statute's endangerment provisions.

Facts:

Miller’s Porsche was set on fire. At trial, witnesses placed Copeland at the scene of the fire, and an evidentiary expert matched a knife found in his pocket the night of his arrest with the cuts on the tires of Miller’s car. The trial court delivered the standard jury instruction for fourth degree arson. During deliberations, the jury inquired as to whether or not the mens rea requirement of the felony applied to the statute’s endangerment provisions, i.e., the defendant had to knowingly or recklessly put people in danger of death or serious bodily injury. The trial court answered negatively, to which the appellate court agreed. Accordingly, the jury found Copeland guilty of two class four felonies: second degree arson and fourth degree arson. Copeland appealed his conviction, arguing that the legislature intended to apply the mens rea requirement to the statute’s endangerment provisions.

Issue:

Does the mens rea requirement of the fourth degree arson statute apply to the statute’s endangerment provisions?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Colorado held that the mens rea requirement of the fourth degree arson statute, knowingly or recklessly, did not apply to the statute's endangerment provisions. According to the Court, the fact that defendant knowingly set a car on fire, thereby endangering people like the responding firefighters, was sufficient to support the endangerment element.

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