444 U.S. 394 (1980), 78-990, United States v. Bailey

Docket Nº:No. 78-990
Citation:444 U.S. 394, 100 S.Ct. 624, 62 L.Ed.2d 575
Party Name:United States v. Bailey
Case Date:January 21, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court

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444 U.S. 394 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 624, 62 L.Ed.2d 575

United States



No. 78-990

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 21, 1980

Argued November 7, 1979




Upon being apprehended after their escape from the District of Columbia jail, respondents were indicted for violating 18 U.S.C. § 751(a), which governs escape from federal custody. At the trial of respondents Cooley, Bailey, and Walker, the District Court, after respondents had adduced evidence of conditions in the jail and their reasons for not returning to custody, rejected their proffered jury instruction on duress as a defense, ruling that they had failed as a matter of law to present evidence sufficient to support such a defense because they had not turned themselves in after they had escaped the allegedly coercive conditions, and, after receiving instructions to disregard the evidence of the jail conditions, the jury convicted respondents of violating § 751(a). At respondent Cogdell's trial, the District Court ruled that, absent testimony of what he did between the time of his escape and his apprehension, he could not present evidence of conditions at the jail, and he was also convicted by the jury of violating § 751(a). The Court of Appeals reversed each respondent's conviction and remanded for new trials, holding that the District Court should have allowed the respective juries to consider the evidence of coercive conditions at the jail in determining whether respondents had formulated the requisite intent to sustain a conviction under § 751(a), which required the prosecution to prove that a particular defendant left federal custody voluntarily, without permission, and "with an intent to avoid confinement," an escapee not acting with the requisite intent if he escaped in order to avoid "non-confinement conditions" as opposed to "normal aspects of `confinement.'" The court further held that, since respondents had been indicted for fleeing and escaping on or about a certain date, and not for leaving and staying away from custody, and since the jury instructions gave the impression that respondents were being tried only for leaving the jail on a certain date, and not for failing to return at some later date, neither respondents nor the juries were acquainted with the proposition that the escapes in question were continuing

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offenses, an omission which constituted a violation of respondents' right to a jury trial.

[100 S.Ct. 627] Held:

1. The prosecution fulfills its burden under § 751(a) if it demonstrates that an escapee knew his actions would result in his leaving physical confinement without permission. Nothing in § 751(a)'s language or legislative history indicates that Congress intended to require such a heightened standard of culpability or such a narrow definition of confinement as the Court of Appeals required. Pp. 403-409.

2. In order to be entitled to an instruction on duress or necessity as a defense to a charge of escape, an escapee must first offer evidence justifying his continued absence from custody as well as his initial departure, and an indispensable element of such an offer is testimony of a bona fide effort to surrender or return to custody as soon as the claimed duress or necessity had lost its coercive force. On the record here, such evidence and testimony were lacking, and hence respondents were not entitled to any instruction on duress or necessity. Pp. 409-415.

(a) Escape from federal custody as defined in § 751(a) is a continuing offense, and an escapee can be held liable for failure to return to custody as well as for his initial departure. Pp. 413-414.

(b) But there was no significant "variance" in the indictments here merely because respondents were not indicted under a theory of escape as a continuing offense and because the District Court did not explain such theory to the juries. The indictments, which tracked closely § 751(a)'s language, were sufficient under the standard deeming an indictment sufficient

if it, first, contains the elements of the offense charged and fairly informs the defendant of the charge against which he must defend, and, second, enables him to plead an acquittal or conviction in bar of future prosecutions for the same offense,

Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 117. And it was unnecessary for the District Court to elaborate for the juries' benefit on the continuing nature of the charged offense where the evidence failed as a matter of law in a crucial particular to reach the minimum threshold that would have required an instruction on respondents' theory of the case generally. Pp. 414-415.

3. If an affirmative defense consists of several elements and testimony supporting one element is, as here, insufficient to sustain it even if believed, the trial court and jury need not be burdened with testimony supporting other elements of the defense. If it were held that the juries in these cases should have been subjected to a potpourri of evidence as to the jail conditions even though a critical element of the proffered defense of duress or necessity was absent, every trial

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under § 751(a) would be converted into a hearing on the current state of the federal penal system. Pp. 416-417.

190 U.S.App.D.C. 142, 685 .2d 1087, and 190 U.S.App.D.C. 185, 585 F.2d 1130, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 417. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 419. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In the early morning hours of August 26, 1976, respondents Clifford Bailey, James T. Cogdell, Ronald C. Cooley, and Ralph Walker, federal prisoners at the District of Columbia jail, crawled through a window from which a bar had been removed, slid down a knotted bedsheet, and escaped from custody. Federal authorities recaptured them after they had remained at large for a period of time ranging from one month to three and one-half months. Upon their apprehension, they were charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 751(a), which governs escape [100 S.Ct. 628] from federal custody.1 At their trials, each of the

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respondents adduced or offered to adduce evidence as to various conditions and events at the District of Columbia jail, but each was convicted by the jury. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the convictions by a divided vote, holding that the District Court had improperly precluded consideration by the respective juries of respondents' tendered evidence. We granted certiorari, 440 U.S. 957, and now reverse the judgments of the Court of Appeals.

In reaching our conclusion, we must decide the state of mind necessary for violation of § 751(a) and the elements that constitute defenses such as duress and necessity. In explaining the reasons for our decision, we find ourselves in a position akin to that of the mother crab who is trying to teach her progeny to walk in a straight line, and finally in desperation exclaims: "Don't do as I do, do as I say." The Act of Congress we construe consists of one sentence set forth in the margin, n. 1, supra; our own pragmatic estimate, expressed infra at 417, is that, "[i]n general, trials for violations of § 751(a) should be simple affairs." Yet we have written, reluctantly but we believe necessarily, a somewhat lengthy opinion supporting our conclusion because, in enacting the Federal Criminal Code, Congress legislated in the light of a long history of case law that is frequently relevant in fleshing out the bare bones of a crime that Congress may have proscribed in a single sentence. See Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246 (1952).

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All respondents requested jury trials, and were initially scheduled to be tried jointly. At the last minute, however, respondent Cogdell secured a severance. Because the District Court refused to submit to the jury any instructions on respondents' defense of duress or necessity, and did not charge the jury that escape was a continuing offense, we must examine in some detail the evidence brought out at trial.

The prosecution's case in chief against Bailey, Cooley, and Walker was brief. The Government introduced evidence that each of the respondents was in federal custody on August 26, 1976, that they had disappeared, apparently through a cell window, at approximately 5:35 a.m. on that date, and that they had been apprehended individually between September 27 and December 13, 1976.

Respondents' defense of duress or necessity centered on the conditions in the jail during the months of June, July, and August, 1976, and on various threats and beatings directed at them during that period. In describing the conditions at the jail, they introduced evidence of frequent fires in "Northeast One," the maximum security cellblock occupied by respondents prior to their escape. Construed in the light most favorable to them, this evidence demonstrated that the inmates of Northeast One, and on occasion the guards in that unit, set fire to trash, bedding, and other objects thrown from the cells. According to the inmates, the guards simply allowed the fires [100 S.Ct. 629] to burn until they went out. Although the fires apparently were confined to small areas and posed no substantial threat of spreading through the complex, poor ventilation caused smoke to collect and linger in the cellblock.

Respondents Cooley and Bailey also introduced testimony that the guards at the jail had subjected them to beatings and to threats of death. Walker attempted to prove that he was an epileptic and had received inadequate medical attention...

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