Saturday, January 21, 2012

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United States v. Baker, No. 10-1925-cr (2d Cir. January 12, 2012) (Pooler, Parker, Carney, CJJ) (per curiam)

This latest per curiam affirms an Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) sentence, rejecting the defendant’s claims that his Vermont prison escape convictions were not ACCA predicates. The statute at issue contains two distinct offenses - failure to report to custody, which is not a predicate, and escape from custody. Baker agreed that his convictions were for escape from custody, but argued that the district court should have looked beyond the charging instruments to determine whether his actual conduct posed a sufficient degree of risk to qualify.

The circuit disagreed. While a sentencing court can, and sometimes must, look beyond the charging instrument, it cannot go beyond the judicial record evidence. Where the defendant pled guilty, the offense is a predicate if the record establishes that his plea necessarily admitted elements of a predicate offense. Here the judicial record evidence established that Baker pled to an escape from custody, and the circuit held that this kind of offense categorically, “in the ordinary case,” presents a serious potential risk of injury to another, rendering it an ACCA predicate. Prisons are dangerous places and escape attempts can have “explosive consequences.” Thus, such attempts present a risk of violent confrontation that is “at least as great as that of a burglary.” Correction officers have a duty to confront and challenge an escaping inmate, which increases the likelihood of a violent encounter. Indeed, Sentencing Commission statistics reveal that more than 15 per cent of federal escapes involved force, more than 30 per cent involved a dangerous weapon, and more than 10 percent involved injury. By contrast there were no instances of injury or force in cases of failure to report or return.

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