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Missouri Escape Rule Bars Post-Conviction and Habeas Corpus Filing

Missouri state prisoner Alan Echols appealed his federal habeas corpus denial after being denied state post-conviction relief based on Missouri's escape rule, which bars the review of post-conviction claims from prisoners who escape from incarceration. The denial was upheld by the Eighth Circuit.

Echols was convicted of stabbing a man in the head and back 61 times at a night club in Kansas City in 1990. The Missouri stale court allowed him to remain on bond until his sentencing, during which time Echols escaped and remained a fugitive for eight years. After his capture and sentencing to life without parole plus a consecutive eight years, Echols lost his direct appeal that the state courts heard despite the escape rule. When Echols filed for state post-conviction relief, however, the escape rule was invoked. The rule provides the state courts with discretion to refuse to hear appeals or post-conviction actions when a defendant escapes from the control of the state.

Echols next filed for federal habeas corpus relief in the federal district court for the Western District of Missouri. The court denied his petition based on a procedural default: Echols failed to exhaust his claims in the state court because the state court refused to hear them invoking the escape rule. Finding the escape rule an adequate (applied evenhandedly to all similar claims) and independent (based on state law without a federal question) state ground, the district court denied relief.

On appeal, the Eight Circuit held that the escape rule applied whether the state-law ground for its application is substantive or procedural and was applied evenhandedly to prisoners similarly situated and hence was not arbitrarily applied to Echols despite being applied by the state post-conviction court but not on direct appeal. The court further held that since Echols’ escape had an adverse impact on the administration of justice it satisfied one of the rule's rationales. Sec: Echols v. Kemna, 511 F.3d 783 (8th Cir. Dec. 26. 2007).

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Related legal case

Echols v. Kemna