333 U.S. 18 (1948), 100, United States v. Brown

Docket Nº:No. 100
Citation:333 U.S. 18, 68 S.Ct. 376, 92 L.Ed. 442
Party Name:United States v. Brown
Case Date:February 02, 1948
Court:United States Supreme Court

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333 U.S. 18 (1948)

68 S.Ct. 376, 92 L.Ed. 442

United States



No. 100

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 2, 1948

Argued January 6, 1948



1. Under the Federal Escape Act, a sentence for escape or attempt to escape while serving one of several consecutive sentences is to be superimposed upon all prior sentences service of which has not been completed, and is to begin upon the expiration of the last of the prior sentences. Pp. 18-27.

2. The canon in favor of strict construction of penal statutes is not an inexorable command to override common sense and evident statutory purpose. P. 25.

160 F.2d 310 reversed.

Respondent's motion for correction of a sentence imposed upon him for an offense under the Federal Escape Act was overruled by the District Court. 67 F.Supp. 116. The Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the cause to the District Court. 160 F.2d 310. This Court granted certiorari. 332 U.S. 755. Reversed, p. 27.

RUTLEDGE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

[68 S.Ct. 377] The Federal Escape Act requires that a sentence for escape or attempt to escape "shall begin upon the expiration of, or upon legal release from, any sentence under which such person is held at the time of" the escape or

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attempt.1 The narrow question is whether the Act requires that a sentence for attempt to escape shall begin upon the expiration of the particular sentence being served when the attempt occurs or at the expiration of the aggregate term of consecutive sentences then in effect, of which the one being served is the first.

The facts are these. Respondent was charged under two indictments in the District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. One contained two counts, the first charging conspiracy to escape, the second attempt to escape. The other indictment was for violation of the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act. 41 Stat. 324, 59 Stat. 536. Respondent pleaded guilty to all three charges.

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On October 26, 1945, he was sentenced as follows: under the first indictment charging the escape offenses, imprisonment for one year on the second count, and for two years on the first count, the sentences to run consecutively in that order; under the motor vehicle theft indictment, imprisonment for two years, to run consecutively to the other two. Thus, the aggregate of the three consecutive sentences was five years.

On November 2, 1945, respondent was serving the one year term of the first sentence as ordered by the court. On that date he was being transported in custody of a United States marshal from an Arkansas jail to Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas.2 During the journey's progress through Missouri, he attempted to escape. This resulted in another indictment, in the Western District of Missouri, to which also respondent pleaded guilty. The District Court sentenced him to imprisonment for five years, the term "to begin at the expiration of any sentence he is now serving, or to be served which was imposed prior to this date. . . ."

Respondent filed a motion to correct this last sentence. He contended that, at the time of the last attempt, he was being "held," within the meaning of the last sentence of the Federal Escape Act, only under the one-year sentence pronounced in the Western District of Arkansas, and that the Act required the five-year sentence under the indictment returned in Missouri to [68 S.Ct. 378] commence at the expiration of that one-year term.

The District Court overruled the motion. It held that, under the statute, the sentencing court could order that the sentence begin to run after the service of any one or all of respondent's three prior sentences. 67 F.Supp. 116. The Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed

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the judgment. Relying on the canon of strict construction of criminal statutes, it equated the statutory word "held" to "serving," and concluded that a sentence for escape or attempt to escape must begin at the expiration of the particular sentence which the prisoner is serving at the time the escape or attempt occurs. Accordingly, the court remanded the cause to the District Court with directions to correct the five-year sentence so that it would begin upon expiration of or legal release from the one-year sentence. 160 F.2d 310. We granted certiorari because of the importance of the question in the administration of the Federal Escape Act.

Although prison breach or other escape by prisoners from custody was a crime under the common law,3 there was no federal statute proscribing such conduct prior to the enactment of the original Federal Escape Act in 1930, 46 Stat. 327. That Act dealt only with escape or attempted escape while under sentence. It was enacted as part of a program sponsored by the Attorney General for the reorganization and improved administration of the federal penal system. H.R.Rep. No. 106, 71st Cong., 2d Sess. The Act took its...

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