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What is the penalty for escaping from prison if you prove your initial innocence?
December 29, 2004 9:57 PM   Subscribe


A man is arrested for murder, and appears absolutely 100% sure to be convicted. He then escapes from prison (assume no one is hurt or property damaged in the escape,) tracks down the real killer, and proves beyond any doubt whatsoever that he is innocent as all hell, and all murder charges were dropped.

How much trouble is this guy going to be in for escaping? What fate awaits him?

Asking both the strictly legal answer, and thoughts on what would actually end up happening.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have no actual answer, but isn't this the plot for Face/Off?
posted by christin at 10:01 PM on December 29, 2004

Never saw that. I was going for a Fugitive thing, but the thought process was directly prompted by the Bruce Wayne: Fugitive arc in DC Comics.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 10:03 PM on December 29, 2004

I think the strictly legal answer is breaking out of prison is a crime. However, we have a discretionary legal system, and it's extremely routine for a law not to be enforced if for example the offense is not really within the intended purpose of the law (using marijuna to treat Parkinson's for example vs. teenagers driving around stoned), or, in this case, if there's a moral underpinning to the escape. For instance, a cop can bust someone for "disobeying a posted sign," a lesser offense and fine, rather than for speeding, if they choose.

Basically, rather than being a robotic arm of the law, the police and judiciary use the law as a framework to apply society's moral standards. I can't recall if that's actually explicitly how it's supposed to be, but certainly it's how it goes. It's hard to say whether they'd prosecute the guy; the public outcry would be so overwhelming that it'd be hard to, and I suspect they'd find any technicality concievable to avoid prosecuting him.
posted by abcde at 11:38 PM on December 29, 2004

I'm pretty sure they'll be some sort of pardon, or at least a transfer to a minimum security resort for a shorter period of time, with access to a word processor so one can write a book about their whole ordeal.
posted by icontemplate at 1:08 AM on December 30, 2004

I believe in the episode of Hollyoaks where this happened, the character was sentenced to the amount of time they'd already spent inside before they escaped. This is fictional and in the UK though.
posted by cillit bang at 2:52 AM on December 30, 2004

I like cillit bang's "time served" answer. The time he spent in jail before was for a crime he wasn't guilty of, so that time can be sort of re-allocated to the jailbreak.

The bonus of that result is that it would result in the guy having served his time for jailbreak before he actually broke out of jail, which would be a good gag.
posted by AgentRocket at 4:25 AM on December 30, 2004

And keep in mind that, in a truly The Fugitive type of situation, with absolutely no doubt about the reality of the situation, the public outcry, as abcde points out, would be huge. I mean, this thing would be the top story on every network if the level of doubt about the real killer was low enough. It makes damn good TV, and news is all about damn good tv.

At that point, any president, from any party, with an interest in maintaining electoral popularity (that is to say, any president ever, in our universe or even an alternate universe), would get mondo points for issuing a presidential pardon.
posted by Bugbread at 4:32 AM on December 30, 2004

To be pedantic, it would probably be the state governor, not the president, but, yeah, but bugbread's pretty much nailed it.

Note that, however, the crime of jailbreak may "disappear" once the crime that originally caused incarceration does -- since, once you're innocent of that, you shouldn't have been incarcerated, thus, escaping is cool.

Now, if you shot a guard on your way out? Oops.
posted by eriko at 4:46 AM on December 30, 2004


You're right, of course. I was just taking it to the "buck stops here" position. Probably it would get thrown out at a lower level, and, failing that, the governor, and, failing that, the president. So that was more a "last resort" type post.

And, as you point out, if you shoot a guard, you're fucked.

Which got me all curious: what if you hurt no-one, and were scrupulously innocent, but you caused a buttload of material damage (blew up an entire wall of the prison, or something like that). Would you be let off of criminal charges but be forced to make restitution?
posted by Bugbread at 5:22 AM on December 30, 2004

Basically, rather than being a robotic arm of the law, the police and judiciary use the law as a framework to apply society's moral standards.

Heh. That's the "Law & Order" talking. (R.I.P., Lenny).

It sounds good, and often works out that way, but I've spent a few years in courtrooms watching cases, and it isn't that clean. Political considerations can work both ways.

And before you talk about "apply(ing) society's moral standards" you must define your terms. Whose standards? In New York, you can catch a 15-year mandatory minimum for less than a kilo of powder cocaine, but shoot a man in the head, plead to manslaughter second degree and do five to eight.


In the given example, if the guy had any priors it'd be extremely unlikely the system would let him walk on the escape felony. Also, I doubt that "time served" would work because every elected DA would be saying "so we send the message that it's OK to bust out of jail if you say you're innocent? They all say they're innocent. If we green-light escape attempts and some guard gets killed we're gonna swing for it."

But they would lighten it up as much as possible, because of the public spectacle. Now, as pointed out by others, every dollar of damage he did he's going to pay for, with cash or his time. And if he hurt anyone, forget it.

There are men in prison today (don't have time to google them up) for rape and murder and such who have been presumptively cleared by DNA testing, but prosecutors won't let them go. They are probably not in the majority of such cases, but they are there.
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:13 AM on December 30, 2004

If there was no violence or property damage involved in the jailbreak, it is unlikely that the person would be prosecuted, because the state or Federal law enforcement authorities involved would want to avoid his bringing a lawsuit for wrongful arrest in the murder case.

My guess is that they would negotiate a plea for a suspended sentence with credit for "time served" and insist that he sign something relinquishing his claims to legal action in the wrongful arrest matter.

If violence was involved, I'm sure they would prosecute.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:51 AM on December 30, 2004

In Virginia, we'd execute him.

That's not a joke.
posted by waldo at 8:09 AM on December 30, 2004

In Belgium, its probably safe to say that every prisoner has the right to escape.
If the prisoner did manage to escape but is caught later on or turns himself in, he simply has to serve the remaining time he had left on the day of his escape. He won't be punished for his escape.
If however, he did break any laws during his escape or while out of jail, he could be convicted for that and serve extra time. So if you can escape without injuring or kidnapping anyone, you really have nothing to loose.
Collecting evidence that someone else was the killer could prove tricky though. Make any mistakes while gathering the evidence and the killer could use that as a "procedural error" in order to get his case thrown out of the courts.
posted by Timeless at 9:15 AM on December 30, 2004

sacre_bleu: Well, of course politics are involved, but enforcing laws based on politics is yet another way the laws are bended to social needs rather than simply enforced. Also, I've never watched Law & Order, and I think the U.S. legal system is amazingly bad, so that wasn't idealism talking ;)
posted by abcde at 9:36 AM on December 30, 2004

If there was no violence or property damage involved in the jailbreak, it is unlikely that the person would be prosecuted, because the state or Federal law enforcement authorities involved would want to avoid his bringing a lawsuit for wrongful arrest in the murder case.

That's just not so. Law enforcement officials in the United States are, generally speaking, legally immune to lawsuits stemming from the pursuit of their official duties. A plaintiff would need to show evidence that the detectives purposely, knowingly framed him to even survive a motion to dismiss the suit.

Dr. Richard Kimble, for example, would have no case. He was framed, but not by the cops.
posted by sacre_bleu at 10:25 AM on December 30, 2004

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