Is Escape from a Nonsecure Courtroom a “Violent Felony”?

Last week, in United States v. Oaks, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that escaping from a courtroom while in police custody is not a “violent felony” for sentencing purposes under the Armed Career Criminal Act if the courtroom was not a secure facility.” Judge Martin wrote the opinion for the court. District Judge Hood, sitting by designation, dissented, arguing that escape from police custody at a courthouse should be considered a “violent felony.”

Oaks was being held in a secure county jail before being taken by his custodian to the courthouse for an appearance on felony charges of evading arrest, felony reckless endangerment, attempted aggravated robbery, theft over $500.00 and aggravated burglary. Obviously the courtroom is not as secure as the county jail, but I am hard pressed to imagine an individual who is “significantly more likely than others to attack, or physically to resist, an apprehender, thereby producing a ‘serious potential risk of physical injury,’” than someone who flees from law enforcement custody during an appearance in a matter in which he is facing felony charges.

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