Lee Davis: 6th Circuit Discusses What Makes A Jail Escape A “Crime of Violence”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - by Lee Davis
The case of  U.S. v. Benji Antonio Stout, involved one man’s escape from prison and how that escape should be classified with regard to a subsequent criminal prosecution. The man, Benji Antonio Stout, was charged with knowingly possessing body armor after having previously been convicted of a crime of violence. The previous crime of violence conviction was Stout’s earlier charge of second-degree escape, a conviction he earned from escaping a county jail.
During the escape, Stout climbed a wall in the recreation area of the jail and then crawled through a hole in the top of the fence.

Stout and his attorneys argued that the prior conviction did not involve a crime of violence and asked the lower court for a hearing on the matter. The lower court concluded that his escape was a crime of violence given that his escape was purposeful and aggressive and that it created a substantial risk that he would need to use physical force against either guards or members of the public who encountered him during the escape. The fact that he never used such physical force was immaterial.

Stout then appealed the case, claiming essentially the same thing. The Sixth Circuit agreed with the decision of the lower court, holding that the escape amounted to a crime of violence. In its ruling, the Court walked through Kentucky’s statutes dealing with the subject of second-degree escape and determined that the type of escape at issue in this case involved “an escape by leaving custody in a secured setting.” This variety of escape involves a purposeful act and requires stealth and presents the possibility of both detection and ensuing confrontation.

The Sixth Circuit said that 18 U.S.C. Section 16(b) makes clear that a crime of violence includes any that involves a substantial risk that physical force may be used in the course of committing the offense. Under this definition, the Court says it is clear that the Stout’s escape meets the standard and should be properly deemed a crime of violence. As a result, his conviction and sentence were upheld.

In an interesting dissent, Judge Bernice Donald argued that unlike the famous prison escapes mentioned in The Count of Monte Cristo or The Shawshank Redemption, which Donald agrees would qualify as crimes of violence, Stout’s escape was achieved by merely climbing over a wall and crawling through a hole that he was not responsible for creating. Given that Stout never harmed anyone or any property in his escape, Judge Donald believes it is clear that his escape should not be labeled a crime of violence.

To read the full opinion, click here.

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(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at lee@davis-hoss.com or at 266-0605.)


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