Legal question inspired by an '80s flick (that's right)

Yeah, I finally got around to watching Stir Crazy, starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. Obviously it’s a silly movie, not based in reality, blah blah blah, but it begs the question: If a person is wrongfully incarcerated (for life, let’s say), then attempts a prison break and succeeds, then is exonerated, did he still commit a crime? In other words, is breaking out of prison a crime in and of itself if he shouldn’t have been there in the first place? Could he be charged with something new (fleeing from police or something like that), or would they just look the other way since the justice system screwed up to begin with?

Yes, breaking out of prison is still a crime, even if you are wrongly imprisoned.

Under the circumstances, the authorities might be tempted to offer some leniency, but then, they might not. They don’t want to encourage every Joe Con to try an escape attempt on the off-chance that they might be later exonerated for their other crimes.

In pretty much every jurisdiction on the planet there is a serious crime along the lines of “escaping lawful custody” or something very similar. A person who breaks out of prison is guilty of escaping lawful custody, by definition.

As **Friedo **notes, you are likely to be charged with this even if you are proven innocent of the crime leading to your incarceration. And the charge of escaping lawful custody is likely to end up with you sentenced to the clink, though the sentence is likely to be reduced to time served. So you still end up having a felony conviction and a record of having served jail time.

The idea here is that society determines guilt, not individuals. If society has deemed you to be guilty then you are guilty as a matter of legal fact, just as you are factually innocent until you have been proven guilty. Having guilty people wandering around at large trying to prove themselves innocent isn’t part of the deal. You are supposed to rely on the system to determine your innocence.

In addition to escaping lawful custody, in order to escape prison you will also need to commit several other felonies such as damaging state property, being at large in a secure area, fraud, lying to law enforcement officials, perverting the course of justice and failure to report a felony. Those are all actual crimes that go on top of escaping lawful custody.

So yeah, breaking out of prison is several crimes, in and of itself.

I think the answer is obvious if you’ve ever seen the documentary called The A*Team.

Still, if you were unjustly convicted, there was no prospect of release for the next ten years or more ( or less if you have nothing to lose at all ), and you had a sure chance of escape and an ability to survive with a new identity, one would be a singular idiot to permit any possible penalty or legal mumbo-jumbo deter one.
Besides, were you initially sentenced to the term of your natural life, having a few more years added on wouldn’t kill you.

I’d heard that in Mexico escaping from prison is not in and of itself a crime, on the theory that well DUH, of course prisoners will try to escape if they can- that’s what the walls, bars and fences are for. Is this true? Of course even if it’s true, if you try to escape and fail or are recaptured, the guards are going to regard you as a “troublemaker” and respond accordingly.

OTOH, there are also politicians who don’t want to appear petty by further incarcerating a person who was wrongly convicted, and who subsequently helped to bring a REAL criminal to justice. It would take balls the size of grapefruits for an elected official to support prosecuting someone under these conditions.

Of course, it all changes if the escapee harmed anyone during their escape, but assuming a modest amount of damaged property, it would feel like political suicide to press for charges.

Or The Fugitive.