Friday, December 16, 2011

Escape from a courtroom is not a "violent felony"

Is an escape from custody a violent offense?  The  courts continue to grapple with this issue, seemingly deciding on a case by case basis whether particular acts constitute aggravating enhancements for sentencing purposes.  In the latest case, United States v. Oaks, 11a0312p.06 , the Court remanded for resentencing (for a second time) based upon an Armed Career Criminal Act enhancement.  Oaks had a prior conviction for escape, based upon his escape from a courtroom.  Oaks had been in custody, and, during a court appearance, ran from the courtroom.  The Court held that this Tennessee state offense was not a violent felony for purposes of the ACCA.

Interestingly, the Court seized on suggestion, espoused by the Supreme Court in Chambers v. United States, 555 U.S. 122 (2009), that in analyzing whether an offense is a violent felony, the Court should make a statistical analysis of the offenses, to see how often the offense actually results in violence.  The Court noted that historical data showed that where an escape is from "nonsecure custody", such as the courtroom in question, injury only occurs in 1.7% of cases.  On this basis, the Court concluded that the prior offense was not a violent felony, and remanded for resentencing.

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