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US Tenth Circuit Court Defines Escape as Violent Felony

The United State Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit heard in November 2011 the case of appellant George John Koufos, convicted per plea agreement and sentenced in August 2010 on charges of bank fraud and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. At issue in the instant appeal was the district court’s characterization at sentencing of a prior escape as, for the purpose of sentencing guideline compilation, a violent crime.

The escape controversy arose from a 1986 incident in which Koufos walked away from the U.S. District Courthouse in New York City while awaiting arraignment. He was apprehended in 1990. In the instant case, Koufos challenged the district court’s assertion at sentencing that his 1986 escape was a crime of violence, causing his sentencing guideline base factor to increase from 14 to 20.

Koufos argued that he plead guilty to that part of 18 U.S.C. § 751(a) criminalizing escape while in custody by virtue of a process issued by the United States. Koufos likened the escape to walking away from a halfway house, a non-violent crime. The government contended that the scope of the offense was broader – escape from actual secure custody.

The court declared the escape a crime of violence, stating “when there is a prisoner in custody in a federal courthouse, it must be assumed as a matter of fact as part of the language of this [information] that there are people who are armed and who are there to prevent escape. So why isn’t that a powder keg waiting to explode when somebody attempts to escape?” In the district court’s eyes, Koufos conduct presented a serious potential risk of injury to another and therefore committed a crime of violence.

Koufos also raised issue of procedural unreasonableness in interpreting the sentencing guidelines at imposition of sentence. The circuit court noted, as did the district court, the appellant’s extensive lifelong criminal history, and called the district court’s reluctance to employ the maximum downward departure in sentencing a non-issue.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. See: United States v Koufos, 666 F.3d 1243 (10th Cir. 2011).

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Related legal case

United States v. Koufos