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Media Alerts - U.S. v. Stout - Sixth Circuit
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February 12, 2013
  U.S. v. Stout - Sixth Circuit
Headline: An Unarmed Prisoner's Jailbreak Using No Physical Force Can Still Be a "Crime of Violence"

Area of Law: Criminal, Crimes of Violence

Issue Presented: Whether an unarmed jail escape resulting in a state-court conviction is a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. § 16(b).

Brief Summary: Federal prosecutors charged the defendant with knowingly possessing body armor after previously being convicted of a "crime of violence." The defendant argued that his prior conviction for escaping jail did not involve a crime of violence. The district court disagreed. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that a jail escape poses a substantial risk of confrontation and violence, satisfying the statutory definition of "crime of violence."

Significance: To determine whether the prior crime was a "crime of violence," the court focused on whether the nature of the crime created a risk of violence rather than on whether any violence actually occurred.

Extended Summary: Federal prosecutors charged the defendant with knowingly possessing body armor after previously being convicted of "a crime of violence." The previous crime-of-violence conviction, according to prosecutors, was the defendant's state-court conviction for second-degree escape. That conviction stemmed from the defendant's escape from a county jail, during which he climbed a recreation-area wall and crawled through a hole in the fence at the top.

The defendant asked the district court for a hearing on whether that past crime could properly be considered a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 16(b). The district court held a hearing and concluded that the defendant's jail escape was a crime of violence because his escape was a "purposeful and aggressive" act that created "a serious risk" that he would use physical force against guards or members of the public. After this ruling, the defendant pleaded guilty, but his plea agreement allowed him to appeal.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding that the defendant's jail escape was a crime of violence. To reach this decision, the court performed a two-part analysis. First, the court used a "categorical approach" to determine the nature of the underlying crime. For this step, the court focused on the underlying crime's statutory definition and elements, rather than on the facts. The court noted that second-degree escape, as defined in Kentucky's statute, could range from violent escapes (such as escapes from maximum-security prisons) to nonviolent escapes (such as "walkaways" from nonsecure settings or mere failures to report). The court found that in this case, "the proper classification of [the defendant's] offense [was] an escape by leaving custody in a secured setting." This form of escape, the court observed, involves a purposeful act to achieve freedom from confinement, which typically requires stealth and creates the potential for detection and confrontation.

The court's next step was to determine whether this category of escape - leaving a secured setting - was a crime of violence. The court noted that under 18 U.S.C. 16(b), "crime of violence" includes any felony "that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense." The court found that escape from a secured setting satisfies this definition because of the "substantial risk that offenders who choose to escape from secured settings will engage in physical violence during the course of the escape." Thus, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision that the crime was one of violence.

Dissent: Judge Donald disagreed with the majority's analysis, stating that when deciding the crime-of-violence question, the court "should only consider the risk that arises from [the defendant's] escape standing alone, not the risk arising from events that may occur subsequent to his escape, including his apprehension." He pointed out that when the defendant escaped, he was unarmed and crawled through a preexisting hole in the fence. He did not harm anyone, and there was no evidence that he harmed property. Thus, Judge Donald believed that the defendant's escape was not a crime of violence.


Panel: Cole and Donald, Circuit Judges; Sargus, District Judge

Argument: 7/26/2012

Date of Issued Opinion: 2/5/2013

Docket Number: 10-6163

Decided: Affirmed conviction.

Case Alert Author: Kristina Bilowus

Counsel: Jeffrey A. Darling, Reinhardt & Associates, PLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellant. Valorie D. Smith, United States Attorney's Office, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Jeffrey A. Darling, Reinhardt & Associates, PLC, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellant. Valorie D. Smith, Charles P. Wisdom, Jr., United States Attorney's Office, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Sargus

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Mark Cooney

    Posted By: Mark Cooney @ 02/12/2013 04:05 PM     6th Circuit  

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