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The criminal offense of fleeing legal custody without authority or consent.

In order for an individual who has been accused of escape to be convicted, all elements of the crime must be proved. Such elements are governed by the specific language of each state statute. The general common-law principles may be incorporated within a statute, or the law may depart from them in various ways. Federal statutes also make it a crime to escape from federal custody.

Ordinarily, the crime of escape is committed either by the prisoner or by the individual who has the responsibility for keeping the prisoner in custody. The custodian of the prisoner is not ordinarily a warden for the entire prison, but is generally the person who has immediate responsibility for guarding the prisoner. Certain states currently punish negligent guards administratively, such as by divesting them of their rank or seniority, or by firing them. Criminal punishment is generally reserved for guards who actively cooperate in facilitating a prisoner's escape.

An escape takes place when the prisoner is able to remove himself or herself from the lawful control of an authorized custodian. An individual can be found guilty of escape even in the event that his or her initial arrest was wrongful, since an unlawful arrest must properly be argued in court. The theory is that in order for the process of justice to operate in an orderly manner, a prisoner must not be given the privilege of determining whether or not he or she should be confined. If an arrest is totally unlawful, however, an individual cannot be guilty of escape. This might occur, for example, if a store security guard has no grounds to arrest a shoplifter but does so anyway.

In order to prove that a criminal escape took place, it is ordinarily unnecessary to show that the accused party was actually confined within prison walls. Once an arrest has taken place, the prisoner cannot leave of his or her own volition. Frequently, the degree of the crime is increased when the escape is from a particular kind of confinement. For example, the law might deal more harshly with an individual who escapes from armed prison guards while working on a chain gang than with an individual who runs away while an arresting officer interrogates witnesses. In other jurisdictions, the degree of criminal escape is dependent upon the nature of the crime that initially precipitated the prisoner's confinement.

It is ordinarily necessary to prove that an escaped prisoner was actually attempting to evade legal confinement. For example, if the prisoner went to the wrong place by mistake, he or she will probably not be found guilty of a criminal escape.

Other crimes are related to escape, such as the offense of aiding escape, which is committed by a person who, for example, smuggles a prisoner out of jail. Ordinarily a conviction for aiding escape is punishable by a sentence for the number of years specified by the criminal statute.

In some states it is a separate crime to harbor or conceal an escaped prisoner. To obtain a conviction against the individual accused of this crime, it must be shown that the individual believed that he or she was aiding an escaped prisoner with the intent to help him or her get clear of lawful custody. It does not constitute a defense to assert that the prisoner never should have been arrested.

Prison breach is an escape committed through the use of force and is more heinous than simple escape. It is not a separate crime, however, and the state may regard it as a more serious degree of criminal escape.

An attempt to commit escape or any of the related crimes is punishable, even though such an attempt might not have been successful.


verb abscond, achieve liberty, avoid, avoid arrest, avoid capture, avoid peril, become free, bolt, break from prison, break loose, break out, circumvent, decamp, depart custody, depart unlawfully, desert, disappear, elabi, elude, evade, evadere, find freedom, flee, gain libbrty, get to safety, levant, make a getaway, run away, slip away, sneak off, steal away, take flight
Associated concepts: extradition, flight, forcible escape
See also: abscond, avoid, circumvent, depart, disappear, egress, elude, evacuate, evade, exude, flee, impunity, issuance, leave, outflow, parry, part, quit, retreat, shun


in English law, the crime of breaking out of lawful confinement. It is also an offence to assist in the escape. For Scotland, see PRISON-BREAKING.

ESCAPE. An escape is tho deliverance of a person who is lawfully imprisoned, out of prison, before such a person is entitled to such deliverance by law. 5 Mass. 310.
     2. It will be proper to consider, first, what is a lawful imprisonment; and, secondly, the different kinds of escapes.
     3. When a man is imprisoned in a proper place under the process of a court having jurisdiction in the case, he is lawfully imprisoned, notwithstanding the proceedings may be irregular; but if the court has not jurisdiction the imprisonment is unlawful, whether the process be regular or otherwise. Bac. Ab. Escape. in civil cases, A 1; 13 John. 378; 5 John. 89; 1 Cowen, 309 8 Cowen, 192; 1 Root, R. 288.
     4. Escapes are divided into voluntary and negligent; actual or constructive; civil and criminal and escapes on mesne process and execution.
     5.-1. A voluntary escape is the giving to a prisoner, voluntarily, any liberty not authorized by law. 5 Mass. 310; 2 Chipm. 11. Letting a prisoner confined under final process, out of prison for any, even the shortest time, is an escape, although he afterwards return; 2 Bl. Rep. 1048; 1 Roll. Ab. 806; and this may be, (as in the case of imprisonment under a ca. sa.) although an officer may accompany him. 3 Co. 44 a Plowd. 37; Hob. 202; 1 Bos. & Pull. 24 2 Bl. Rep. 1048.
     6. The effect of a voluntary escape in a civil case, when the prisoner is confined under final process, is to discharge the debtor, so that he cannot be retaken by the sheriff; but he may be again arrested if he was confined only on mesne process. 2 T. R. 172; 2 Barn. & A. 56. And the plaintiff may retake the prisoner in either case. In a criminal case, on the contrary, the officer not only has a right to recapture his prisoner, but it is his duty to do so. 6 Hill, 344; Bac. Ab. Escape in civil cases, C.
     7.-2. A negligent escape takes place when the prisoner goes at large, unlawfully, either because the building or prison in which he is confined is too weak to hold him, or because the keeper by carelessness lets him go out of prison.
     8. The consequences of a negligent escape are not so favorable to the prisoner confined under final process, as they are when the escape is voluntary, because in this case, the prisoner is to blame. He may therefore be retaken.
     9.-3. The escape is actual, when the prisoner in fact gets out of prison and unlawfully regains his liberty.
    10.-4. A constructive escape takes place when the prisoner obtains more liberty than the law allows, although he still remains in confinement The following cases are examples of such escapes: When a man marries his prisoner. Plowd. 17; Bac. Ab. Escape, B 3. If an underkeeper be taken in execution, and delivered at the prison, and neither the sheriff nor any authorized person be there to receive him. 5 Mass. 310. And when the keeper of a prison made one of the prisoners confined for a debt a turnkey, and trusted him with the keys, it was held that this was a constructive escape. 2 Mason, 486.
    11. Escapes in civil cases are, when the prisoner is charged in execution or on mesne process for a debt or duty, and not for a criminal offence, and he unlawfully gains his liberty. In this case, we have seen, the prisoner may be retaken, if the escape have not been voluntary; and that he may be retaken by the plaintiff when the escape has taken place without his fault, whether the defendant be confined in execution or not; and that the sheriff may retake the prisoner, who has been liberated by him, when he was not confined on final process.
    12. Escapes in criminal cases take place when a person lawfully in prison, charged with a crime or under sentence, regains his liberty unlawfully. The prisoner being to blame for not submitting to the law, and in effecting his escape, may be retaken whether the escape was voluntary or not. And he may be indicted, fined and imprisoned for so escaping. See Prison.
    13. Escape on mesne process is where the prisoner is not confined on final process, but on some other process issued in the course of the proceedings, and unlawfully obtains his liberty, such escape does not make the officer liable, provided that on the return day of the writ, the prisoner is forthcoming.
    14. Escape on final process is when the prisoner obtains his liberty unlawfully while lawfully confined, and under an execution or other final decree. The officer is then, in general, liable to the plaintiff for the amount of the debt.

ESCAPE, WARRANT. A warrant issued in England against a person who being charged in custody in the king's bench or Fleet prison, in execution or mesne process, escapes and goes at large. Jacob's L. D. h.t.

References in classic literature ?
So if we don't GIVE them notice there won't be nobody nor nothing to interfere with us, and so after all our hard work and trouble this escape 'll go off perfectly flat; won't amount to nothing -- won't be nothing TO it.
And so in course of time, the devil, who never sleeps and puts everything in confusion, contrived that the love the shepherd bore the shepherdess turned into hatred and ill-will, and the reason, according to evil tongues, was some little jealousy she caused him that crossed the line and trespassed on forbidden ground; and so much did the shepherd hate her from that time forward that, in order to escape from her, he determined to quit the country and go where he should never set eyes on her again.
There is nothing of the imbecile or degenerate in his features or expression, as is usually true in similar cases, where some lunatic escapes into the woods and by living in filth and nakedness wins the title of wild man among the peasants of the neighborhood.
We knew that at the tide the pent-up waters between the islands of Ferroe and Loffoden rush with irresistible violence, forming a whirlpool from which no vessel ever escapes.
Here the two elegants led out a couple of heiresses to dance; and I heard no more of them or of their escapes.
The secret of our emotions never lies in the bare object, but in its subtle relations to our own past: no wonder the secret escapes the unsympathizing oberver, who might as well put on his spectacles to discern odours.
Embracing the huge cylinder, as closely as possible, with his arms and knees, seizing with his hands some projections, and resting his naked toes upon others, Jupiter, after one or two narrow escapes from falling, at length wriggled himself into the first great fork, and seemed to consider the whole business as virtually accomplished.
She feared for William; by no means convinced by all that he could relate of his own horsemanship in various countries, of the scrambling parties in which he had been engaged, the rough horses and mules he had ridden, or his many narrow escapes from dreadful falls, that he was at all equal to the management of a high-fed hunter in an English fox-chase; nor till he returned safe and well, without accident or discredit, could she be reconciled to the risk, or feel any of that obligation to Mr.
If the least report of this escapes, there is the Bastile for both of us.
At their hospitable boards I occasionally met with partners, and clerks, and hardy fur traders from the interior posts; men who had passed years remote from civilized society, among distant and savage tribes, and who had wonders to recount of their wide and wild peregrinations, their hunting exploits, and their perilous adventures and hair-breadth escapes among the Indians.
Thoughtful and pensive in general, her countenance always brightens into a smile when Reginald says anything amusing; and, let the subject be ever so serious that he may be conversing on, I am much mistaken if a syllable of his uttering escapes her.
As nothing escapes the piercing eyes of malice, Mademoiselle Thirion became, as it were, a sharer in the sudden emotion of master and pupil.