The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Treece, No. 115 WDA 2016 (May 5, 2017), holding that a person does not “escape” from “official detention” after being arrested, handcuffed, and taken to the hospital by police who choose to then uncuff him and leave the hospital after he is admitted for medical treatment.

Treece was arrested for violating a PFA Order and taken to the police station. At the time of his arrest, he complained of feeling ill. EMS were contacted and took him to the local hospital cuffed to the gurney. He was admitted to the hospital for medical treatment and remained in handcuffs, under guard of the police. There was no indication in that Treece asked to go to the hospital as subterfuge to evade police or to prevent his arrest.

Sometime after his admission, the police officers removed Treece’s handcuffs and left the examination room and the hospital entirely. After some more time passed and with law enforcement officers no longer present, Treece decided he wanted to leave and, with the assistance of a nurse, he removed his IV and walked out of the hospital.

Three days later, police took Treece into custody on an unrelated matter and subsequently filed charges against him for escape (for having left the hospital). Treece was found guilty of escape after a jury trial and filed this timely appeal after the trial court denied his post-trial Motion for Judgement of Acquittal.

On appeal, Treece asserted that the evidence presented by the Commonwealth was insufficient to demonstrate that he was in “official detention” as required by the escape statute when he walked out of the hospital at least one hour after the police officers removed his handcuffs and left the premises.

The Superior Court began its analysis by looking to the escape statute which states that a person commits the offense of escape when he ―unlawfully removes himself from “official detention” or fails to return to official detention following temporary leave granted for a specific purpose or limited period. “Official detention” is also defined by statute as an “arrest, detention in any facility for custody of persons under charge or conviction of crime or alleged or found to be delinquent, detention for extradition or deportation, or any other detention for law enforcement purposes; but the phrase does not include supervision of probation or parole, or constraint incidental to release on bail.”

The Superior Court found it significant that Treece was merely arrested and taken to the police station to await his arraignment before being taken to the hospital for medical treatment. At that point, he had not been designated to a detention facility. Additionally, the Court noted that it was of import that there is no prohibition against releasing an arrestee before arraignment and then either re-arresting or subpoenaing the arrestee to appear at a later time for formal arraignment.

In Treece’s case, the Superior Court noted that he had been transported by police to a hospital and was, therefore, no longer in a facility for custody of persons. Furthermore, police had removed his handcuffs and left the hospital. Accordingly, the Superior Court found that he was was no longer in police custody. However, the Superior Court also acknowledged that a question remained as to whether the phrase “any other detention for law enforcement purposes” nonetheless applied to Treece’s circumstances.

To determine whether Treece was subject to “any other detention for law enforcement purposes” at the time he chose to leave the hospital, the Superior Court applied a reasonable person standard. It noted that this standard essentially mirrored the standard used by the PA and US Supreme Courts to determine whether a citizen is in “official detention” when analyzing interactions between police officers and citizens within the context of searches and seizures.

Specifically, the Superior Court found the “reasonable person” analysis useful as a guide in determining whether Treece reasonably believed he was free to leave. In applying the standard, the Court noted that Treece was taken to the hospital in handcuffs, and remained cuffed for a period of time until officers removed the handcuffs and left the hospital, leaving Treece in the hospital‘s care. After remaining at the hospital, unguarded, for at least an hour, Treece removed his IV with the help of a nurse. The nurse informed Treece that he was still in treatment and advised him against leaving; however, this advice was strictly medical and was unrelated to his status as a police detainee. After removing his IV, Treece calmly left the hospital and returned to work. When hospital personnel called the police station to inform them of the circumstances, the police on duty declined to issue a warrant or show any other authority over Treece.

The Superior Court noted that Treece never attempted to evade his police escort. And, police never advised Treece that he was not free to leave the hospital. While finding that this point was not dispositive, the Court found that it lent support to the conclusion that a reasonable person in Treece‘s position would have believed he was free to go.

Accordingly, the Superior Court held that the evidence presented at trial did not establish that Treece was subject to “official detention” as contemplated in the escape statute, when he left the hospital and his conviction was reversed and judgment vacated.


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