Wednesday, January 23, 2019

People v. Taggart (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 23, 2019)

Hmmm.  I could come out either way on this one.

It's the ancient problem of how old language covers -- or doesn't cover -- new facts.

Moonshadow Taggart gets convicted of buying or receiving a stolen vehicle and gets sentenced to two years in county jail.  But a around six months before his release date, he gets released from jail pursuant to a program called "sheriff's parole" -- a term I haven't heard before, but that apparently exists.  Neither I nor the Court of Appeal knows precisely what "sheriff's parole" entails.  Footnote two of the opinion explains that "No party refers us to rules or regulations governing the Kern County sheriff’s parole program, and the program’s terms are not in the record."  But what we do know is that under this program, Mr. Taggart wasn't supposed to leave Kern County (or the state).

Which, of course, he subsequently did.  Hence the opinion.

Which revolves all around whether that counts as an "escape" from custody.

On the one hand, we wasn't allowed to leave the state, and he did.  So you could say that since he was subject to a certain degree to restrictions on his freedom, which he then violated, by doing so, he in essence "escaped" from that custody.

On the other hand, yeah, he had some limitations on his freedom, but he was basically at large in the population, rather than in "custody" (at least as we typically define the term).  We certainly wouldn't call it "escape" if someone on parole violated, say, a condition that said "Don't use drugs" -- that'd be a parole violation, but not an escape.  Unclear why violating this particular provision ("Don't leave the county.") suddenly counts as the much more serious offense of escaping from custody.

Given these competing principles, you can perhaps understand why there's a majority opinion and a dissent here.  The majority opinion (written by Justice Snauffer) says it's not an escape.  The dissent (Justice Levy) says it is.

No easy answer to this one.  We all know that a horse is a horse and a duck isn't a horse, but figuring out the precise contours of what's in the middle isn't always easy.

The same is true with respect to an "escape" from custody.