Last Monday, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided United States v. Gowdy, an unbelievable case in which the Eleventh Circuit joined several other circuits in holding that one need not actually be in federal custody to escape from federal custody under 18 U.S.C. § 751(a).
Gowdy was convicted in the Northern District of Alabama for federal drug crimes, and then turned over to the state of Mississippi. Mississippi lost the federal detainer against Gowdy and then turned him over to the state of Alabama to face charges pending there. Alabama, never having received the federal detainer, released Gowdy when he completed his sentence there. When federal authorities discovered the mistake, they issued a warrant for Gowdy’s arrest. He agreed to turn himself in after making arrangements for the care of his daughter, but never did so.
Gowdy was charged with escape from federal custody. He was convicted on the theory of constructive custody – that he was in custody under his federal conviction, despite his mistaken release. The Eleventh Circuit agreed, holding “that the custodial requirement of § 751(a) is satisfied where a lawful judgment of conviction has been issued by a court against the defendant… [T]here is no additional requirement that the defendant be physically confined in an institution at the time of the escape.”
The opinion in U.S. v. Gowdy is available here.