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Judges disagree on when escape occurs

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The Indiana Court of Appeals had to decide whether inmates in a jail could be charged with escape if they never left the outer walls of the facility. The majority affirmed the dismissal of the escape charges against the six inmates, ruling the act was just a violation of prison rules. The dissenting judge believed that based on statute, the inmates could be charged with escape.

In State of Indiana v. Misty Moore, et al., No. 28A01-0903-CR-111, Chief Judge John Baker and Judge Patricia Riley examined Indiana Code Section 35-44-3-5(a), which defines when someone commits Class C felony escape, and determined the facts of the case don't support criminal charges.

To prove the inmates committed escape, the state had to establish they intentionally fled from lawful detention, which in this case was a penal facility. Misty Moore and five other female inmates climbed through the ceiling of their jail cells to reach the male cell block, where they would fraternize with the male inmates at night.

The majority dismissed a number of cases from other jurisdictions the state argued support its argument, and instead relied on Louisiana v. Liggertt, 363 So.2d 1184 (La. 1978), State v. Davis, 271 N.W.2d 693 (Iowa 1978), and State v. Buck, 724 S.W.2d 574 (Mo. Ct. App. 1986), in which other courts have reached the same conclusion as the trial court in the instant case - that rules may have been broken but no crime was committed, wrote Chief Judge Baker.

"We acknowledge that the relevant statutes could be drafted more artfully and explicitly, but given the well-established rules that we construe penal statutes strictly against the State and that ambiguities should be resolved in favor of the accused... close calls such as this one must be resolved in the defendants' favor," he wrote.

Judge Ezra Friedlander found the cases that the majority dismissed to be instructive and believed the statute applies even when an incarcerated person escapes from a cell, but didn't intend to leave the boundaries of the penal facility. Judge Friedlander relied on Crowder v. State, 812 S.W.2d 63 (Tx. Crim. App. 1991), State v. Sugden, 422 N.W.2d 624 (Wisc. 1988), and State v. Padilla, 113 P.3d 1260 (Colo. Ct. App. 2005), in which those cases relied on similar language as found in Indiana's statute.

"Drawing from these cases, it cannot seriously be argued that it does not promote public safety or facilitate efficient institutional administration to read 'flees from lawful detention' so narrowly as to exclude the act of breaking out of an area of confinement within the walls of a detention facility, for whatever purpose and with the intent to go anywhere else, whether within or without the outer boundaries of that facility," he wrote.

Judge Friedlander also takes issue with the majority's stance that it seems escaping out of a cell is either the crime of escape or a matter of prison discipline. Breaking out of a cell can be both, he wrote. If a prisoner assaults another inmate, he can be punished by the facility and also face criminal charges. The judge also noted that in past versions of the escape statute, the legislature was more specific in defining escape as leaving the boundaries of particular facilities.

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