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United States v. Bifield

March 3, 1983

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
DANIEL BIFIELD, APPELLANT.



Daniel Bifield appeals from his conviction for escape in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 751(a) entered in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut following a jury trial before Judge Ellen B. Burns. Affirmed.

Author: Cardamone

Before:

FEINBERG, Chief Judge, KAUFMAN and CARDAMONE, Circuit Judges.

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge:

On September 23, 1981 appellant, Daniel Bifield, an inmate awaiting sentencing at the Bridgeport Community Correctional Center in Connecticut, gained access to the cell adjoining his and escaped through an open window. After spending several weeks in the United States, he fled to the Bahamas. While in hiding there and for the over four months that he was at large, Bifield became the object of an international manhunt. Successfully managing to elude his pursuers, he finally returned to the United States in late January 1982 and went to Denver, Colorado. There his luck ran out.On February 5 he was captured by United States Marshalls and Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Bifield was returned to Connecticut, and tried on a single count of escape from the custody of the Attorney General of the United States, in violation of U.S.C. § 751(a)(Supp. V 1981), before Judge Ellen B. Burns and a jury in the District of Connecticut. Found guilty on June 10, 1982, appellant was sentenced to a five-year term of imprisonment to be served consecutively to the sentences being served at the time of his escape.

Several issues are raised on this appeal. The first is whether Judge Burns erred when she rejected as a matter of law appellant's defense of duress*fn1 to the charge of excape. The second, related to the first, is whether the effect of the trial court's ruling denied appellant his constitutional and statutory right to testify on his own behalf before the jury which tried him. The third is whether the trial court's charge to the jury unconstitutionally diluted the presumption of innocence. Before discussing these issues we briefly detail the factual background, particularly as it bears on appellant's claim of duress.

At a hearing outside the presence of the jury the duress defense was fully presented. Prior to his escape Bifield was suffering from kidney stones. A doctor who had examined appellant on August 5, 1981 confirmed the kidney stone diagnosis and testified that pain associated with that condition is often so severe as to require immediate medical attention and hospitalization. A fellow inmate stated that Bifield complained of pain and having blood in his urine. Requests to the Bridgeport jail medics to render some sort of treatment were ignored. Another doctor testified that he saw Bifield at St. Vincent's Hospital Emergency Room in Bridgeport sometime in August 1981 and found him to be suffering from "acute renal colic with a documentation of blood in his urine." The doctor stated that the patient was in need of acute care hospitalization. However, United States Marshals did not permit him to remain at St. Vincent's, but instead transported him to a hospital within the Connecticut State Prison. Appellant presented evidence that while in the State Prison he received no medical care. Further testimony was presented that during this period Bifield was in a good deal of pain -- "holding his side . . . vomiting." Appellant testified that after just a few days at the State Prison he was sent back to Bridgeport where officials refused him admission to the jail infirmary. He stated that one evening while he was in great pain ("I would have been glad if I died"), and shortly after his request to see a medic was ignored, he saw a wide open window in the adjoining cell. He gained access to the cell and escaped. Bifield claimed that he left the Bridgeport facility because officials there refused to treat his condition.

He stated that four weeks after his escape he obtained medical treatment at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau. Aware of pursuit by the FBI, he moved on to Andros Island, also in the Bahamas, where he recived further medical care. Eventually he was forced to flee the Bahamas to avoid capture. He claimed that it was his intention to surrender himself when cured, but that the threat which caused him to flee prison had not yet evaporated and that its coercive force still existed at the time of his arrest in Denver:

Q -- [C]an you tell the Court whether or not it was your intention that once you got cured you would turn yourself in?

A -- I would. I was going -- when I was ready, when I was all ready I was going to get in contact with you and say, "John, I'm ready to give myself up."

The reason he gave for not contacting his lawyer was that he was still suffering from attacks of kidney stones. On cross examination he conceded that while in the Bahamas he swam in the hotel pool, used the beach, went horseback riding and rented a boat to take a ride.

Finally, it appears that appellant was familiar with prison procedures for making a complaint regarding treatment in jail. He claims that he spoke to Bridgeport jail counselors many times and that they merely referred him to the medical department which ignored him. He also said that he spoke to his father and to his wife. According to him, none of these efforts produced results.

After the presentation of this proof, the trial court ruled that the defense of duress or necessity failed as a matter of law and could not be presented to the jury. As a result, appellant claims he was prohibited from taking the stand in his ...


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