The District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Davis v. United States decided on August 10, 2017, reversed an Escape conviction and provided the legal definition for “Lawful Custody” in the applicable Statute.

The section of the District of Columbia Code at issue is entitled “Escape from an Institution or Officer (D.C. Code § 22-2601 (a)) and it reads in the relevant part:

(a) No person shall escape or attempt to escape from:

  •  Any penal or correctional institution or facility in which that person is confined pursuant to an order issued by a court of the District of Columbia;
  •  The lawful custody of an officer or employee of the District of Columbia or of the United States;
  •  An institution or facility, whether located in the District of Columbia or elsewhere, in which a person committed to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services is placed.

Here, the Police Officers had observed Davis urinating in public and thus approached him with the intention to place him under the arrest.

However the Police Officer did not announce that appellant was under arrest.

Specifically, the Officer walked behind the appellant and grabbed the back of his pants/belt to hold onto him while reaching for the cuffs ordering Davis to put his hands behind his back. But before the Officer was able to secure the handcuffs the appellant turned around, shoved the Officer and ran away.

The Court of Appeals held that was not tantamount to Escape under the Statute because the Officer did not have at anytime Davis in full custody, control, or arrest.

Specifically, where an officer physically restrains a person or the person has submitted to a lawful arrest then there is “lawful custody” within the meaning of the Statute.

Lawful custody however is not established merely because officers tell a suspect he is under arrest or seize him for investigative purposes, which was merely the case here.

Also a reasonable person’s belief that he is not free to leave is not enough to constitute arrest or custody under the Escape Statute.

There must be a completed arrest, that is:

  • The defendant must be physically restrained by an officer pursuant to a lawful arrest or;
  • When the defendant submits to a lawful arrest.

In another word, an arrest is complete when a person’s liberty of movement is successfully restricted or restrained either by the officer’s physical force or the suspect’s submission to the officer’s authority.

Thus the term “lawful custody” under the Statute refers to robust concept of custody in that escape could never occur if the physical restraint applied by an officer were completely effective.

Therefore, to be guilty of Escape under the Statute, the officer must have had near complete physical restraint via handcuffs or otherwise by force and if such environment did not existed then there was no Escape from custody.

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Categories: Criminal Defense.