Ex parte Jones, 1210194

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Writing for the CourtSTEWART, JUSTICE.
PartiesEx parte Whitney Owens Jones v. State of Alabama In re: Whitney Owens Jones
Docket Number1210194
Decision Date16 September 2022

Ex parte Whitney Owens Jones

In re: Whitney Owens Jones
v.

State of Alabama

No. 1210194

Supreme Court of Alabama

September 16, 2022


Mobile Circuit Court: CC-18-5443; Court of Criminal Appeals: CR-18-0997

PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS

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STEWART, JUSTICE.

In January 2018, Whitney Owens Jones, an inmate in the Mobile County Metro Jail and a participant in the jail's work-release program, left her work-release job and did not return to the work-release barracks. As a result, Jones was charged with, and convicted of, second-degree escape, a felony. See Ala. Code 1975, § 13A-10-32. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Jones's conviction. We granted certiorari review to consider whether an inmate, like Jones, who escapes from a county work-release program authorized pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, §§ 14-8-30 through 14-8-44 ("the county work-release statutes"), may be convicted of escape pursuant to one of the escape statutes in the Alabama Criminal Code,[1] Ala. Code 1975, §§ 13A-10-30 through 13A-10-33 ("the escape statutes"), which would be punishable as a felony, or whether such an escape is punishable only as a misdemeanor pursuant to Ala. Code 1975, §§ 14-8-42 and 14-8-43. We conclude that escapes from county work-release programs are governed by the escape statutes. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

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Facts and Procedural History

The Court of Criminal Appeals summarized the pertinent facts as follows:

"In January 2018, Jones entered a work-release program while she was incarcerated in the Mobile County Metro Jail on a pending charge of fourth-degree theft of property, a misdemeanor. Jones's participation in the work-release program allowed her to work the day shift at Filters Now, a business in Creola, Alabama. After a few weeks in the program, Jones and another inmate left Filters Now in a vehicle and did not return to the work-release barracks. The 'in-and-out sheet' includes a notation that Jones 'left at 16:00 and did not return.' The comment section includes the note 'escape.'
"…
"In October 2018, a Mobile County grand jury indicted Jones for third-degree escape, see § 13A-10-33 Ala. Code 1975. In March 2019, the State moved to amend the indictment to charge Jones with second-degree escape, see § 13A-10-32, Ala. Code 1975. Both third-degree and second-degree escape are Class C felonies. The circuit court granted the State's motion to amend.
"Jones moved to dismiss the amended indictment. In the motion, Jones argued that she was a county inmate in the work-release program and that, under Webb v. State, 539 So.2d 343 (Ala.Crim.App.1987), she could be guilty of no more than a misdemeanor under § 14-8-42 and § 14-8-43, Ala. Code 1975. The circuit court denied the motion, and Jones's case went to trial.
"Jones moved for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's evidence and again at the close of all the evidence.
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Jones argued in each motion that she could not be guilty of escape, a felony. The circuit court denied those motions. The circuit court also denied Jones's requests for jury instructions related to her argument that she could not be guilty of felony escape."

Jones v. State, [Ms. CR-18-0997, Apr. 23, 2021] __ So.3d __, (Ala.Crim.App.2021) (footnotes and citations to the record omitted).

The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Jones's argument that she could have been convicted only of a misdemeanor pursuant to §§ 14-8-42 and 14-8-43. That court concluded that the record did not establish that Jones was a "county inmate" at the time of her escape.

Analysis

Jones was charged with and convicted of second-degree escape pursuant to § 13A-10-32, one of the three statutes in the Alabama Criminal Code defining and classifying escape offenses. Escape in the second degree is defined as follows: "A person commits the crime of escape in the second degree if he escapes or attempts to escape from a penal facility." § 13A-10-32(a). Furthermore, "[e]scape in the second degree is a Class C felony." § 13A-10-32(b). We note that Jones was initially indicted for third-degree escape, a Class C felony, see § 13A-10-33(b), which is defined as an "escape[] or attempt[ed] … escape from

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custody." § 13A-10-33(a). Jones, however, argues that, because she was a county inmate in a county work-release program, her conduct falls under § 14-8-42.[2] That section provides:

"The willful failure of an inmate to remain within the extended limits of his confinement or to return to the place of confinement within the time prescribed shall be deemed an escape from a state penal institution in the case of a state inmate and an escape from the custody of the sheriff in the case of a county inmate and shall be punishable accordingly."

Furthermore, § 14-8-43 provides that "[a]nyone violating any of the [county work-release statutes] shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." Section 14-8-43 has been interpreted by the Court of Criminal Appeals as providing the penalty for a violation of § 14-8-42. See, e.g., Cork v. State, 603 So.2d 1127, 1128 (Ala.Crim.App.1992). Jones argues that, because she was purportedly a "county inmate,"[3] her conduct in failing to return

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from her work-release job was punishable only as a misdemeanor under §§ 14-8-42 and 14-8-43 and that her felony conviction for second-degree escape was, therefore, improper. In support of her argument, Jones relies on Webb v. State, 539 So.2d 343 (Ala.Crim.App.1987), and cases following Webb, for the proposition that "a county inmate … who fails to return from work release is guilty only of a misdemeanor under § 14-8-42." 539 So.2d at 345.

We begin our analysis by noting that county work-release programs like the one in which Jones was participating are authorized pursuant to the county work-release statutes, which were adopted by the legislature in 1976 for the purpose of authorizing counties to establish work-release programs for county inmates and state inmates in county custody. Ala. Acts 1976, Act No. 637. Similar to Ala. Code 1975, §§ 14-8-1 through 14-8-10 ("the state work-release statutes"), which were adopted before 1976, the county work-release statutes provide that the failure of an inmate to return from his or her work-release job constitutes "an escape," § 14-8-42, and that such an inmate is "guilty of a misdemeanor." § 14-8-43; see

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also Miller v. State, 349 So.2d 129, 131 (Ala.Crim.App.1977) (holding, in a case decided before the effective date of the Alabama Criminal Code, that, under the state work-release statutes, an escape constituted a misdemeanor).

At the time of its 1976 enactment, § 14-8-42 joined what was then a variety of escape statutes setting forth various species of escape offenses with wide disparities in the severity of punishments. See, e.g., Ala. Code 1975, former §§ 13-5-60 through 13-5-71, and Jacques v. State, 409 So.2d 876, 879 (Ala.Crim.App.1981) (noting the "great difference" between punishments provided in various former escape statutes). In 1977, however, the legislature adopted the Alabama Criminal Code with the purpose of providing an entirely new criminal code for the State of Alabama effective January 1, 1980. See Ala. Acts 1977, Act No. 607 (Title), and Ala. Code 1975, § 13A-1-11. Among the comprehensive changes it made to the then-existing criminal laws, the Alabama Criminal Code recategorized escape offenses into three distinct classifications -- first degree, second degree, and third degree. Ala. Code 1975, §§ 13A-10-31, 13A-10-32, and 13A-10-33. According to the Commentary to §§ 13A-10-31 through 13A-10-33 (which follows § 13A-10-33),

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these new escape provisions were intended to replace Alabama's former "helter-skelter treatment of escape" with three classifications of escape offenses that increased in severity of punishment based on "(1) use of force[] and (2) the seriousness of the crime that led to the inmate's detention." Commentary to §§ 13A-10-31 through 13A-10-33 (noting that the "previous law provided a helter-skelter treatment of escape" and was "lack[ing] any particular pattern or scheme"). Furthermore, according to that Commentary, the scheme was intended to cover all escapes, with the statute defining and classifying third-degree escape -- § 13A-10-33 -- as a catch-all provision "applicable to all escapes." Id. (emphasis added).

Escape in the first degree is defined by § 13A-10-31:

"(a) A person commits the crime of escape in the first degree if:
"(1) He employs physical force, a threat of physical force, a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument in escaping or attempting to escape from custody; or
"(2) Having been convicted of a felony, he escapes or attempts to escape from custody imposed pursuant to that conviction.
"(b) Escape in the first degree is a Class B felony."

Escape in the second degree is defined by § 13A-10-32:

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"(a) A person commits the crime of escape in the second degree if he escapes or attempts to escape from a penal facility.
"(b) Escape in the second degree is a Class C felony." Finally, escape in the third degree is defined by § 13A-10-33:
"(a) A person commits the offense of escape in the third degree if he escapes or attempts to escape from custody.
"(b) Escape in the third degree is a Class C felony."[4]

Section 13A-10-30(b)(1) defines "custody" as:

"A restraint or detention by a public servant pursuant to a lawful arrest, conviction or order of court, but does not include mere supervision of probation or parole, or constraint incidental to release on bail."

Act No. 607, Ala. Acts 1977, the act initially adopting the Alabama Criminal Code, expressly repealed previous statutes regarding escape, but, for reasons that are not entirely clear, § 14-8-42 was not included among the statutes that...

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