SECTION 1 - COLQUITT
444 U.S. 394 (1980)
Mr. Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.
In the early morning hours of August 26, 1976, respondents Clifford Bailey, James T. Cogdell, Ronald C. Cooley, and Ralph Walker, federal prisoners at the District of Columbia jail, crawled through a window from which a bar had been removed, slid down a knotted bedsheet, and escaped from custody. Federal authorities recaptured them after they had remained at large for a period of time ranging from one month to three and one-half months. Upon their apprehension, they were charged with violating 18 USC § 751(a) [18 USCS § 751(a)], which governs escape from federal custody.¹ At their trials, each of the [444 US 397] respondents adduced or offered to adduce evidence as to various conditions and events at the District of Columbia jail, but each was convicted by the jury. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the convictions by a divided vote, holding that the District Court had improperly precluded consideration by the respective juries of respondents' tendered evidence. We granted certiorari, 440 US 957, 59 L Ed 2d 770, 99 S. Ct 1497, and now reverse the judgments of the Court of Appeals.
In reaching our conclusion, we must decide the state of mind necessary for violation of § 751(a) and the elements that comprise defenses such as duress and necessity. In explaining the reasons for our decision, we find ourselves in a position akin to that of the mother crab who is trying to teach her progeny to walk in a straight line, and finally in desperation exclaims: "Don't do as I do, do as I say." The Act of Congress we construe consists of one sentence set forth in the margin, n1, supra; our own pragmatic estimate, expressed infra, at 417, 62 L Ed 2d, at 595, is that "in general, trials for violations of § 751(a) should be simple affairs." Yet we have written, reluctantly but we believe necessarily, a somewhat lengthy opinion supporting our conclusion, because in enacting the Federal Criminal Code Congress legislated in the light of a long history of case law that is frequently relevant in fleshing out the bare bones of a crime that Congress may have proscribed in a single sentence. See Morissette v. United States, 342 US 246, 96 L Ed 288, 72 D Ct 240 (1952).
All respondents requested jury trials and were initially scheduled to be tried jointly. At the last minute, however, respondent Cogdell secured a severance. Because the District Court refused to submit to the jury any instructions on respondents' defense of duress or necessity and did not charge the jury that escape was a continuing offense, we must examine in some detail the evidence brought out at trial.
The prosecution's case in chief against Bailey, Cooley, and Walker was brief. The Government introduced evidence that each of the respondents was in federal custody on August 26, 1976, that they had disappeared, apparently through a cell window, at approximately 5:35 a.m. on that date, and that they had been apprehended individually between September 27 and December 13, 1976.
* * *
Criminal liability is normally based upon the concurrence of two factors, "an evil-meaning mind [and] an evil-doing hand. * * *" Morissette v. United States, 342 US, at 251, 96 L Ed 288, 72 S Ct 240. In the present case, we must examine both the mental element, or mens rea, required for conviction under § 751(a) and the circumstances under which the "evil-doing hand" can avoid liability under that section because coercive conditions or necessity negate a conclusion of guilt even though the necessary mens rea was present.
Few areas of criminal law pose more difficulty than the proper definition of the mens rea required for any particular crime. In 1970, the National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws decried the "confused and inconsistent ad hoc approach" of the federal courts to this issue and called for "a new departure." See 1 Working Papers of the National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws 123 (hereinafter Working Papers). Although the central focus of this and other reform movements has been the codification of workable principles for determining criminal culpability, see, e.g., American Law Institute, Model Penal Code §§ 2.01-2.13 (prop Off Draft 1962) (hereinafter Model Penal Code); § 1, 94th Cong, 2d Sess §§ 301-303 (1976), a byproduct has been a general rethinking of traditional mens rea analysis.
At common law, crimes generally were classified as requiring either "general intent" or "specific intent." This venerable distinction, however, has been the source of a good deal of confusion. As one treatise explained:
"Sometimes general intent' is used in the same way as criminal intent' to mean the general notion of mens rea, while specific intent' is taken to mean the mental state required for a particular crime. Or, general intent' may be used to encompass all forms of the mental state requirement, while specific intent' is limited to the one mental state of intent. Another possibility is that general intent' will be used to characterize an intent to do something on an undetermined occasion, and specific intent' to denote an intent to do that thing at a particular time and place." W. LaFave & A. Scott, Handbook on Criminal Law § 28, pp 201-202 (1972) (footnotes omitted (hereinafter LaFave & Scott).
This ambiguity has led to a movement away from the traditional dichotomy of intent and toward an alternative analysis of mens rea. See id., at 202. This new approach exemplified [444 US 404] in the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code, is based on two principles. First, the ambiguous and elastic term "intent" is replaced with a hierarchy of culpable states of mind. The different levels in this hierarchy are commonly identified, in descending order of culpability, as purpose, knowledge, recklessness, and negligence.² See LaFave & Scott 194; Model Penal Code § 2.02. Perhaps the most significant, and most esoteric, distinction drawn by this analysis is that between the mental states of "purpose" and "knowledge." As we pointed out in United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 438 US 422, 445, 57 L Ed 2d 854, 98 S Ct 2864 (1978), a person who causes a particular result is said to act purposefully if " he consciously desires that result, whatever the likelihood of that result happening from his conduct,'" while he is said to act knowingly if he is aware " that the result is practically certain to follow from his conduct, whatever his desire may be as to that result.'"
In the case of most crimes, "the limited distinction between knowledge and purpose has not been considered important since there is good reason for imposing liability whether the defendant desired or merely knew of the practical certainty of the results.'" United States v. United States Gypsum Co., supra at 445, 57 L Ed 2d 854, 98 S Ct 2864, quoting LaFave & Scott 197. Thus, in Gypsum we held that a person could be held criminally liable under § 1 of the Sherman Act if that person exchanged prices [444 US 405] with a competitor either with the knowledge that the exchange would have unreasonable anticompetitive effects or with the purpose of producing those effects. 438 US, at 444-445, and n 21, 57 L Ed 2d 854, 98 S Ct 2864.
In certain narrow classes of crimes, however, heightened culpability has been thought to merit special attention. Thus, the statutory and common law of homicide often distinguishes, either in setting the "degree" of the crime or in imposing punishment, between a person who knows that another person will be killed as the result of his conduct and a person who acts with the specific purpose of taking another's life. See LaFave & Scott 196-197. Similarly, where a defendant is charged with treason, this Court has stated that the Government must demonstrate that the defendant acted with a purpose to aid the enemy. See Haupt v. United States, 330 US 631, 641, 91 L Ed 1145, 67 S Ct 874 (1947). Another such example is the law of inchoate offenses such as attempt and conspiracy, where a heightened mental state separates criminality itself from otherwise innocuous behavior. See, Model Penal Code § 2.02 Comments, p 125 (Tent Draft No. 4, 1955) (hereinafter MPC Comments).
In a general sense, "purpose" corresponds loosely with the common-law concept of specific intent, while "knowledge" corresponds loosely with the concept of general intent. See Ibid.; LaFave & Scott 201-202. Were this substitution of terms the only innovation offered by the reformers, it would hardly be dramatic. But there is another ambiguity inherent in the traditional distinction between specific intent and general intent. Generally, even time-honored common-law crimes consist of several elements, and complex statutorily defined crimes exhibit this characteristic to an even greater degree. Is the same state of mind required of the actor for each element of the crime, or may some elements require one state of mind and some another? In United States v. Feola, 420 US 671, 43 L Ed 2d 541, 95 S Ct 1255 (1975), for example, we were asked to decide [444 US 406] whether the Government, to sustain a conviction for assaulting a federal officer under 18 USC § 111 [18 USCS § 111], had to prove that the defendant knew that his victim was a federal officer. After looking to the legislative history of § 111, we concluded that Congress intended to require only "an intent to assault, not an intent to assault a federal officer." 420 US, at 684, 43 L Ed 2d 541, 95 S Ct 1255. What Feola implied, the American Law Institute stated: "[C]lear analysis requires that the question of the kind of culpability required to establish the commission of an offense be faced separately with respect to each material element of the crime." MPC Comments, 123. See also Working Papers 131; LaFave & Scott 194.
Before dissecting § 751(a) and assigning a level of culpability to each element, we believe that two observations are in order. First, in performing such analysis courts obviously must follow Congress' intent as to the required level of mental culpability for any particular offense. Principles derived from common law as well as precepts suggested by the American Law Institute must bow to legislative mandates. In the case of § 751(a), however, neither the language of the statute nor the legislative history mentions the mens rea required for conviction.
Second, while the suggested element-by-element analysis is a useful tool for making sense of an otherwise opaque concept, it is not the only principle to be considered. The administration of the federal system of criminal justice is confided to ordinary mortals, whether they be lawyers, judges, or jurors. This system could easily fall of its own weight if courts or [444 US 407] scholars become obsessed with hair-splitting distinctions, either traditional or novel, that Congress neither stated nor implied when it made the conduct criminal.
As relevant to the charges against Bailey, Cooley, and Walker, § 751(a) required the prosecution to prove (1) that they had been in the custody of the Attorney General, (2) as the result of a conviction, and (3) that they had escaped from that custody. As for the charges against respondent Cogdell, § 751(a) required the same proof, with the exception that his confinement was based upon an arrest for a felony rather than a prior conviction. Although § 751(a) does not define the term "escape," courts and commentators are in general agreement that it means absenting oneself from custody without permission. * * *
Respondents have not challenged the District Court's instructions on the first two elements of the crime defined by § 751(a). It is undisputed that, on August 26, 1976, respondents were in the custody of the Attorney General as the result of either arrest on charges of felony or conviction. As for the element of "escape," we need not decide whether a person could be convicted on evidence of recklessness or negligence with respect to the limits on his freedom. A court may someday confront a case where an escapee did not know, but should have know, that he was exceeding the bounds of his confinement or that he was leaving without permission. Here, the District Court clearly instructed the juries that the prosecution bore the burden of proving that respondents "knowingly committed an act which the law makes a crime" and that they [444 US 408] acted "knowingly, intentionally, and deliberately. * * *" App 221-223, 231 233. At a minimum, the juries had to find that respondents knew they were leaving the jail and that they knew they were doing so without authorization. The sufficiency of the evidence to support the juries' verdicts under this charge has never seriously been questioned, nor could it be.
The majority of the Court of Appeals, however, imposed the added burden on the prosecution to prove as a part of its case in chief that respondents acted "with an intent to avoid confinement." While for the reasons noted above, the word "intent" is quite ambiguous, the majority left little doubt that it was requiring the Government to prove that the respondents acted with the purpose that is, the conscious objective of leaving the jail without authorization. In a footnote explaining their holding, for example, the majority specified that an escapee did not act with the requisite intent if he escaped in order to avoid " nonconfinement' conditions" as opposed to "normal aspects of confinement.'" 190 US App DC, at 148, n 17, 585 F.2d, at 1093, n 17.
We find the majority's position quite unsupportable. Nothing in the language or legislative history of § 751(a) indicates that Congress intended to require either such a heightened standard of culpability or such a narrow definition of confinement. As we stated earlier, the cases have generally held that, except in narrow classes of offenses, proof that the defendant acted knowingly is sufficient to support a conviction. Accordingly, we hold that the prosecution fulfills its burden under § 751(a) if it demonstrates that an escapee knew his actions would result in his leaving physical confinement without permission. Our holding in this respect comports with parallel definitions of the crime of escape both in the Model Penal Code and in a proposed revision of the Federal Criminal Code. See Model Penal Code §§ 2.02(3). 242/6(1); Report of Senate Committee on the Judiciary to Accompany § 1, Rep No. 94-00, pp 333-334 (Comm [444 US 409] Print 1976). Moreover, comments accompanying the proposed revision of the Federal Criminal Code specified that the new provision covering escape "substantially carrie[d] forward existing law. * * *" Id., at 332.
¹ Title 18 USC Section 751(a) [18 USCS Section 751(a) provides:
"Whoever escapes or attempts to escape from the custody of the Attorney General or his authorized representative, or from any institution or facility in which he is confined by direction of the Attorney General, or from any custody under or by virtue of any process issued under the laws of the United States by any court, judge, or magistrate, or from the custody of an officer or employee of the United States pursuant to lawful arrest, shall, if the custody or confinement is by virtue of an arrest on a charge of felony, or conviction of any offense, be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both; or if the custody or confinement is for extradition or by virtue of an arrest or charge of or for a misdemeanor, and prior to conviction, be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."
Respondents were also charged with violating 22 D.C. Code Section 601 (1973), the District of Columbia's statute proscribing escape from prison. The District Court instructed the juries that if they found the respondents guilty of violating 18 USC Section 751(a) [18 USCS Section 751(a)], they should not consider the charges under 22 D.C. Code Section 2601.
² This hierarchy does not attempt to cover those offenses where criminal liability is imposed in the absence of any mens rea whatsoever. Such "strict liability" crimes are exceptions to the general rule that criminal liability requires an "evil-meaning mind." Compare Morissette v. United States, 342 US 246, 250-263, 96 L Ed 288, 72 S Ct 240 (1952), with United States v. Dotterweich, 320 US 277, 280-281, 284, 88 L Ed 48, 64 S Ct 134 (1943). Under the Model Penal Code, the only offenses based on strict liability are "violations," actions punishable by a fine, forfeiture, or other civil penalty rather than imprisonment. See Model Penal Code Section 2.05(1)(a). See also LaFave & Scott, 218-223.
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