501 F.2d 516 (7th Cir. 1974), 73-1449, United States v. Nix

Docket Nº:73-1449.
Citation:501 F.2d 516
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Joe Charles NIX, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:August 08, 1974
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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501 F.2d 516 (7th Cir. 1974)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Joe Charles NIX, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 73-1449.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Aug. 8, 1974

Argued April 15, 1974.

Leslie G. Foschio and John A. Lancaster, Senior Law Student, Notre Dame, Ind., for defendant-appellant.

Henry A. Schwarz, U.S. Atty., Jack Strellis, Asst. U.S. Atty., East St. Louis, Ill., for plaintiff-appellee.

Before CUMMINGS, PELL and SPRECHER, Circuit Judges.

SPRECHER, Circuit Judge.

This appeal concerns the effect of a defendant's intoxication on a prosecution for escape or attempted escape.

Defendant Nix was confined in the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois. On May 9, 1972, Nix was excused from working because of illness and was 'deadlocked' in his cell during the day. On the following day, he again asked to be locked in his cell so other inmates would not disturb him. The guard conducting the court of prisoners in their cells noticed Nix' bunk was occupied at the 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. counts. When a new guard began his shift at the midnight count, however, he discovered the occupant of Nix' bunk was a dummy.

After a 45-minute search, officers found Nix locked in the rear of a trailer truck parked on a lot outside the prison walls. The trailer had been loaded with desks during the day and was moved outside to the parking lot shortly after 10 p.m.

Nix was indicted under 18 U.S.C. § 751(a) 1 for 'unlawfully and wilfully attempt(ing) to escape.'

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At the trial several inmates testified they had seen Nix either before his disappearance or after his capture. They described him as 'roaring drunk,' 'drunk as hell' or noted particular behavior that led them to believe Nix was intoxicated.

The following instructions were given:

Three essential elements are required to be proved in order to establish the offense charged in the indictment:

First, the defendant had been in custody of any institution or facility in which he is confined by direction of the Attorney General, or from any custody under or by virtue of any process issued under the laws of the United States by any court, judge or magistrate.

Second, the defendant escaped or attempted to escape.

Third, the escape is from a confinement based upon the conviction.

Defendant has offered evidence that he was intoxicated at the time of the commission of the crime charged in the indictment. The crime does not involve specific intent. Therefore, the evidence that defendant acted or failed to act because of intoxication does not constitute a defense.

Nix' attorney objected to the first instruction because it did not include 'some standard of mental state' in the definition of escape. He objected to the second instruction on the ground that every 'attempt' crime requires specific intent which may be negated by intoxication. The court overruled the objections without explanation. Nix was convicted and sentenced to five years' imprisonment, to run consecutive to his present sentence.

On the day after Nix' appeal was argued, a different panel of this court heard the appeal of Samuel Peterson, No. 74-1074. Peterson had been drinking heavily throughout the day of May 27, 1973, at the honor camp at Marion. So intoxicated that he vomited, Peterson then took a towel and some toiletries to clean up. On his way to the lavatory, he again felt ill and wandered outside to rest against a tree. Peterson testified that the next thing he remembered was walking along some railroad tracks the next morning, trying to get back to the camp. He was apprehended about eight miles from Marion, the towel and toiletries still in his possession.

Peterson was also indicted under § 751, but charged with escape rather than attempted escape. He was tried before the same district judge, who gave virtually the same instructions as in the Nix trial. Peterson's lawyer objected on the theory that escape is a specific-intent crime to which intoxication is a defense. Peterson was convicted and sentenced to only one year, consecutive to his present sentence.

Both defendants urge this court to employ the traditional analysis of specific intent versus general intent. 2 Nix argues, with substantial support, 3 that all crimes of attempt are classified as specific-intent crimes. Peterson claims, with somewhat less authority, 4 that the specific-intent label should be applied to escape as well as to attempted escape. If either crime requires specific intent,

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defendants argue, then the jury should have been allowed to consider whether the prisoner was so intoxicated he could not form the requisite intent.

Under the traditional analysis, specific intent is indeed required for attempted escape. We could end the inquiry here and remand this case because the instruction given erroneously states the Simplistic as the traditional analysis is, however, it does not further a logical resolution of the problem. This is true for several reasons.

Implicit in Nix' argument is an acknowledgement that escape is a general-intent crime. 5 Nix would say that, by choosing to charge him with attempted escape, the prosecutor injected the element of specific intent into the case. Therefore intoxication would be relevant in his case but not in Peterson's.

The trouble with this approach is the impossibility of drawing a line between escape and attempted escape. Was the difference between Nix' act and Peterson's the eight miles Peterson traveled? Or an overnight absence versus the hours Nix was missing? Any escapee brought to trial was ultimately unsuccessful.

On reflection it will be seen that in cases arising under this statute (§ 751) the line of demarcation between an escape and an attempt to escape is often too shadowy to permit of the laying down of absolutes. 6

We believe the distinction between the two crimes is too flimsy to support a rule of law that would attach great importance to the prosecutor's choice between a charge of escape and one of attempted escape.

This deficiency in the traditional analysis might be overcome by labeling both crimes as general-intent crimes, as the district judge did, or as specific-intent crimes, as Peterson urges. These labels are 'often used in the cases but seldom defined.' United States v. Williams, 332 F.Supp. 1, 3 (D.Md.1971). They were developed, at least with regard to intoxication, primarily to allow drunkenness as a defense to first-degree murder but not to lesser degrees of homicide. The attempt to apply the terms to nonviolent crimes such as escape has produced confused reasoning and disparate results. 7

Categorizing all crimes as either having 'general' or 'specific' intent seems too mechanical and often forecloses evaluation by the court of the important consideration involved, i.e., what elements are involved in the crime and whether the prosecution has satisfactorily established them.


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