LOCATION: U.S. Department of Labor
DOCKET NO.: 78-990
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
CITATION: 444 US 394 (1980)
ARGUED: Nov 07, 1979
DECIDED: Jan 21, 1980
Edwin S. Kneedler - on behalf of the Petitioner
Richard S. Kohn - on behalf of the Respondents
Facts of the case
Bailey, Cogdell, Cooley, and Walker, as defendants, were imprisoned in the federal prison in Washington, D.C. One time, the prisoners tried to run away through the window. They all were arrested at a second time during from one till three months after that and were accused of the escape. The accused should be tried in one case, but it was decided to proceed each prosecution separately.
The court confirmed the guilt of each accused. However, Cogdell affirmed the unsatisfactory conditions of sentence forced them to organize the jailbreak. The former prisoners argued that they were suffered from often occurred fires, guards` threats to be beaten or killed. The judges refused his arguments and condemned him.
The plaintiffs brought the claim before the appellate court that revised and established that the district court didn`t consider the defenders` testimonies, that was illegible.
The case study of United States v Bailey was passed to the USA Supreme Court to resolve the issue if the appellants presented enough evidence to confirm the presence of coercion.
The judges concluded that the defenders didn`t prove the duress for their escape by the objective facts. Moreover, the case brief of United States v Bailey underlines the judgment point that if the defendants were enforced to run away from the prison because of improper conditions of their remaining here, they should be returned to custody after escapement as the fact of duress disappeared. Thus, they didn`t do it; they organized their jailbreak deliberately without any enforcement.
Media for United States v. BaileyAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 07, 1979 in United States v. Bailey
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 21, 1980 in United States v. Bailey
William H. Rehnquist:
In No. 78-990, United States versus Bailey and the companion case of United States against Cogdell involves the construction of a prison escape statute.
In 19776, Clifford Bailey, James Cogdell, Ronald Cooley, and Ralph Walker escaped from the District of Columbia Jail where they were being held in federal custody as a result of being either convicted of or arrested for various felonies.
The FBI recaptured these four men separately after they had remained at large anywhere from one to three and one half months and charged them with violating 18 U.S.C. Section 751 (a) which makes escape from federal custody a crime.
At their trial, each of the defendants attempted to prove that he was forced to escape by the conditions that escape of the D.C. jail during the summer of 1976.
These alleged conditions included trash fires, objects thrown from the cells, attempted beatings of prisoners by guards and failure to provide adequate medical care.
At each of the trials, the District Judge inquired into the defendant's conduct after they freed themselves from the allegedly oppressive conditions of the jail.
Cogdell and Cooley, each of whom had remained at large for one month offered no evidence of any attempt to surrender.
Bailey who had eluded the FBI for almost three months testified that he had someone contact the jail officials but that he did not turn himself in because he did not want to go back to the D.C. jail and because someone had told him that the FBI would kill him if they caught him.
Walker testified that he spoke on the telephone with an FBI agent three times in an attempt to negotiate a surrender but that he broke off communications when the agent could not promise him that they would not be sent back to the D.C. jail.
He remained at large another two months before the FBI recaptured him.
At the trial for prison escape, the District Judge ruled that because the defendants had remained at large long after freeing themselves from the allegedly oppressive conditions of the jail, evidence of those conditions was irrelevant to the question whether they had violated Section 751 (a).
The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed holding that the evidence of the conditions that they jail was relevant in determining whether the defendants had the necessary intent to commit the crime of escape.
According to the Court of Appeals an escapee was not guilty of violating Section 751 (a) unless he left custody in order to avoid the normal conditions of confinement as opposed to conditions which included trash fires and beatings.
Today we hold in turning the file with the clerk that the Court of Appeals erred in requiring proof of such an intent.
Section 751 (a) prohibits knowingly escaping from physical custody.
That section includes within its literal terms prisoners who escape from custody to avoid any aspect of their confinement normal or otherwise.
It may be that a prisoner who is threatened with death or serious bodily injury might be able to defend an escape charge on the grounds of duress or necessity.
Such defenses however are available only if the defendant had no reasonable alternative to violating the law.
Here, Bailey, Cooley, Cogdell, and Walker violated Section 751 (a) not only by their initial escape but also by their continued absence from federal custody.
Whatever justification they had for escaping from jail on the first place, they offered no legally sufficient reason for remaining at large up to three and a half months.
We therefore conclude that the District Court did not err in removing the evidence of conditions of the jail from consideration by the jury.
The judgment of Court of -- the judgments of the Court of Appeals are reversed and the cases are remanded for reinstatement of the judgments of the District Court.
Mr. Justice --
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you -- excuse me.
William H. Rehnquist:
Mr. Justice Stevens while joining the opinion of the Court has filed a separate concurring opinion.
Mr. Justice Blackmun with whom Mr. Justice Brennan joins has filed a dissenting opinion.
Mr. Justice Marshall took no part in the consideration or the decision of this case.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you Mr. Justice Rehnquist.