Bailey v. United States


Defendant crawled through a window to escape prison but was eventually recaptured after a month.  Defendants were charged with the escape of federal custody.


At trial the defendant’s argument regarding various conditions and events at the jail were precluded and defendant was convicted.  Court of appeals reversed the conviction, holding that the lower court improperly precluded the evidence.  The court of appeals believed the district court should have permitted the jury to consider evidence of “coercive conditions in determining whether the respondents had formulated the requisite intent to sustain a conviction.”  The court held that intent to escape “non-confinement” conditions are admissible.


Did the prosecution have to prove that “a particular defendant left federal custody voluntarily, without permission, and ‘with intent to avoid confinement?’”


Reversed, remanded.


Where intent is a requisite element in a Congressional statute it should be interpreted as general intent unless the language or legislative history dictates otherwise.


Courts must follow and analyze congressional intent to establish the proper level of mental culpability.  In the applicable statute, there exists no language or statutory history alluding to mental culpability.  Therefore, the prosecution needed only to prove that Bailey “knowingly” escaped, not that he escaped with a particular purpose.  The prosecution need only find that Bailey knowingly left the prison’s premises.


Court attempts to define specific versus general intent, primarily distinguishing purpose and knowledge.  Acting with purpose usually coincides with specific intent, while acting knowingly – that a particular result is practically certain to follow – corresponds with general intent.

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