Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Walk-away prison escape held not a crime of violence

United States v. Clay, No. 09-4572 (4th Cir. Dec. 8, 2010):

(Although this case does not directly address habeas issues, it likely will spur habeas-based challenges.)

From Fourth Circuit Blog:

Another round in the ongoing saga of whether a prior escape conviction triggers enhanced recidivist penalties.  In this case, the prior conviction was a Georgia conviction for felony escape, incurred at the same time as a conviction for interference with government property.  At issue was whether that escape conviction was a "crime of violence" as defined by the Guidelines, which would enhance the base offense level for Clay's offense of conviction, being a felon in possession of a firearm.  The district court held that it was a crime of violence and applied the Guidelines accordingly.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed and vacated Clay's sentence.  It noted that the Georgia escape statute covered at least three kinds of conduct: escape from a secure facility, failure to return from to custody, and walking away from an unsecured facility.  The parties agreed that the first type of conduct would be a crime of violence, while the other two would not (the court agreed on the third type of conduct, previously an open issue in the Fourth Circuit).  Nonetheless, the Government argued that Clay's conduct fell in the first category because, when the escape conviction was read in conjunction with the interference with government property conviction, it was clear that Clay was shackled and did something to those shackles to effect an escape.  Hence, he escaped from a secure facility.  The court disagreed, holding that the applicable evidence did not necessarily show that inference to be true.  Thus, Clay's sentence was vacated and his case remanded for resentencing.

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