The escape conviction of a work crew inmate who stopped shoveling horse manure at the Douglas County Fairgrounds and rode away with his girlfriend was overturned Wednesday.
The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that Aaron Frank Cadger wasn’t guilty of second-degree escape because the fairgrounds isn’t a correctional facility.
District Attorney Rick Wesenberg said he will consult with the Department of Justice to determine whether the state will appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court.
Either through an appeal or legislative action, the law should be made clear that leaving an inmate work crew constitutes escape, he said.
“Every now and then, you get a decision that’s a head-scratcher,” Wesenberg said today. “It’s in the public interest, I would assert, to fix this ruling because there are work crews all over the county.”
Eugene public defender David Sherbo-Huggins, who argued Cadger’s case in front of the three-judge appeals court, said he couldn’t comment this morning because he hadn’t reviewed the ruling with his supervisor.
Cadger, a Roseburg resident who is now 23 years old, was serving a 60-day sentence for violating probation when he was taken from the jail to the fairgrounds in September 2010, according to court records.
Cadger and other work crew members gathered for coffee and heard the rules: No smoking, no drinking, no using a telephone and no leaving the break area unless using the restroom.
The inmates were then sent to their assigned duties.
Cadger was assigned to shovel manure in the south parking lot, an area outside a fence around the fairgrounds. Cadger primarily worked alone and unsupervised, according to court records.
His girlfriend arrived. Eventually, he got into her car, and they left. His absence was undetected until he failed to return from a purported restroom break during the lunch hour.
Cadger was arrested two days later in Humboldt County in California.
At Cadger’s trial for escape, his lawyer moved to drop the charge, arguing the prosecution couldn’t prove Cadger escaped from a correctional facility. The prosecution argued that practically speaking, Cadger was confined by the sheriff’s office, even if he wasn’t being kept behind walls. Circuit Judge Frances Burge rejected the motion, and a jury convicted Cadger of felony escape.
On appeal, Cadger argued that he was actually on a “form of temporary release” and should have only charged with “unauthorized departure,” a misdemeanor.
The appeals court agreed, citing an earlier ruling that found an inmate who absconded from an animal shelter where he was performing community service couldn’t be convicted of escape because he was not “under the direct supervision of a law enforcement official.”
Wednesday’s opinion, signed by Justice Lynn Nakamoto, noted other rulings have upheld convictions for escaping from a courtroom and home confinement. But Nakamoto wrote that in those cases, inmates were directly supervised in court or warned beforehand that leaving the house would constitute escape.
Justices Rex Armstrong and James Egan joined in the opinion.
• City Editor Don Jenkins can be reached at 541-957-4201 or firstname.lastname@example.org.