Castle: “Probable Cause”

There are a lot of spoilers in this one, so we’ll cover the setup inside. But the issue we’re looking at here is the nature of the criminal offense of escape and its potential sentence under New York Penal Law

The deal here is that Castle has been framed for murder by an old nemesis, 3XK, from season 3. Beckett and the guys don’t believe it, but the evidence is incredibly incriminating and Castle himself has no explanation.

Of course, it’s a frame, and that comes out in the end. But before that happens, Castle is arrested and charged with murder. Actually charged: the DA makes an appearance and it is specifically mentioned that charges have been filed. Castle is to be transported to central booking for processing.

But the officers that come to take him over aren’t actually cops. They’re stand-ins hired to bust him out of the joint. When everything winds down, Gates says that while the murder charge is being dropped, “There’s still the matter of your escape from custody. However, under the circumstances I’m sure you can negotiate down to time served.”

Escape is an offense under Article 205 of the New York Penal Law. Here we’re specifically interested in section 205.15(2), which makes it a class D felony to escape after one has been “arrested for, charged with or convicted of a class A or class B felony”. The intentional murder of the victim was either second or first degree murder, depending on whether she was tortured prior to her death; either is a class A felony.  So Castle’s escape would qualify as a class D felony.

If we look at Article 70, we see that class D felonies carry up to seven years hard time. Castle might well be able to negotiate down to time served given the fact that the DA’s office was about to try him on an epic frame job, but he might not either. Escaping from custody is, as the law provides, a serious matter. “But I didn’t do it!” is not a defense to escaping from a legal arrest, even if it’s true. One does not have the right to resist arrest, escape from custody, or otherwise impede the criminal justice system simply because one is innocent.

This is actually kind of a big deal. Felony convictions are nothing to sneeze at, even if one can get it down to time served. This would go on Castle’s criminal record. He would trigger all sorts of red flags on background checks and security checkpoints. He might even run into problems with the guns he owns. If I were Castle, I’d try to negotiate that down from a felony to a misdemeanor. Call it escape in the third degree, which is any time one escapes from custody. That’s a Class A misdemeanor. This would still show up on a criminal background check, but misdemeanor offenses aren’t nearly as problematic as felony convictions.

Castle, the fake cops, and whoever arranged the escape will also have to deal with a potential conspiracy charge.  The conspiracy charge would probably be conspiracy in the fifth degree because they conspired to commit a class D felony. N.Y. Penal Law § 105.05. This is a ‘mere’ class A misdemeanor.

And what about Beckett, Ryan, and Esposito?  They may be on the hook for hindering prosecution in the third degree, a class A misdemeanor. N.Y. Penal Law § 205.55. That requires “rendering criminal assistance” to someone who has committed a felony (as Castle did).  Rendering criminal assistance can be a lot of things (see § 205.50 for a list), but in can include “deliberate non-disclosure of the identity of a known felon to the police during a criminal investigation.”  People v. Williams, 20 A.D. 3d 72, 76 (Sup. Ct. App. Div. 2005).  That case distinguished between “the mere failure to report the commission of a felony to the police, on the one hand, and the affirmative act of concealing the identity of a known felon by false statement or material omission, on the other.”  The former is not a crime in New York, but the latter apparently is.  Beckett, Ryan, and Esposito’s concealment of Castle’s location may have been a material omission.

That theory is complicated by the fact that the police (i.e. Beckett, Ryan, and Esposito) were the ones doing the concealing.  Beckett’s failure to disclose Castle’s location other information to Esposito during their first post-escape phone call probably qualifies.  But after that the three of them are acting more as conspirators and less as people failing to disclose information to impartial police investigators.

Finally there’s the issue of the lawyer.  It’s not clear who arranged the escape, but Castle was visited by his attorney, and he initially jokes that he escaped because of a “great lawyer.”  We doubt the lawyer arranged the escape as such, but he may have been used to pass information to whoever did arrange it.  If the message was coded or concealed (e.g. in a sealed envelope), then that’s not a problem.  But if the lawyer knew what was up, then that’s a big problem.  As a co-conspirator he would be liable for the same felony as Castle, which means an automatic disbarment under N.Y. Judiciary Law § 90(4)(a).  Even if Castle pleas down to a misdemeanor, the lawyer would still likely be disbarred or suspended.

16 responses to “Castle: “Probable Cause”

  1. Dear Sirs:
    I was hoping you could help me with the law involving Superman and
    Superman 2. In the first movie coud Superman be charged with tanpering with gov’t property, the missiles? In superman 2 could he be charged with the damage done to Metropolis?

    • Re: Superman, no, the missiles were already tampered with by Lex Luthor. Further, Superman had a good defense of necessity: ‘tampering’ with the missiles saved millions of lives. Re: Superman II, again no. Superman is acting in defense of others (the abducted Lois Lane) and takes great care to avoid hurting bystanders. If he hadn’t acted with reasonable care then he could be liable for harm to bystanders or property, but since he did he’s probably okay.

      • The question has a different answer if you live in one of the multiverses where Superman IV was made and distributed. If you’re lucky enough not to, Superman decides unilaterally that the human race cannot be trusted with nuclear weapons and requires them all to be surrendered to him for destruction. Resistance proves to be futile.

      • Melanie Koleini

        I don’t think the nuc destruction was a unilateral decision in IV. Although I haven’t scene the movie in years so I could be wrong.

      • What a strange multiverse. In that one, is Superman not aware that we have actually quite a lot of people who can make more?

      • Certainly in Superman IV none of the nations involved seem to raise any objections but Superman may have violated a few laws concerning the transportation of missiles and public safety. Of course considering how improbable the entire thing was he may have used his Super-hypnotism, which he might or might not have depending on continuity, on people (which would probably be a serious crime).

      • Ms. Koleni: IIRC at least one country tries to hide or otherwise retain some nuclear capability. It doesn’t work.

        Pat: He’s quite aware. He doesn’t do anything about nuclear power plants, which of course can be used to create relatively high-grade plutonium from reactor-grade uranium (depending on their design.) And you can make fission bombs from uranium anyway. The implication is that if they do he will just destroy them again.

  2. Could Castle rely on a necessity defense since he had a firm belief that the tranfer put him in immenent danger?

    • In New York, necessity (“justification”) is defined this way: “conduct which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal when: …2. Such conduct is necessary as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury which is about to occur by reason of a situation occasioned or developed through no fault of the actor, and which is of such gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality, the desirability and urgency of avoiding such injury clearly outweigh the desirability of avoiding the injury sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense in issue.” N.Y. Penal Law § 35.05.

      Justification is occasionally invoked in escape cases, particularly with regard to abuse by guards and prison riots. If “the prisoner’s personal safety is threatened to the point of imminent injury and no other means of relief is reasonably available, the prisoner’s escape to avoid the injury would constitute justification under the statute. Even in this extreme case, however, the prisoner should, as soon as possible, make known his presence and surrender to the law enforcement authorities.” People v. Brown, 68 A.D.2d 503, 512 (Sup. Ct. App. Div. 1979).

      • It’s made pretty clear in the episode that A) the danger is real, and B) will be imminent as soon as Mr. Castle is commingled with others in the jail. I think Castle’s necessity defense on the escape is perfectly valid, and, to be honest, I was a bit surprised not to see it in the article (and, he DID turn himself in to some law enforcement officers, who, if I’m not mistaken, remained with him until such time as it was safe for him to come out of hiding).

        The conspiracy charge, however, is another matter. I’m also interested to hear if conspiring to escape by reason of necessity would still be a disbarment offense for the lawyer, or if the client’s necessity excuses the conduct.

      • I think Castle *did* make legal efforts, but was stymied by bureaucracy and the fact that few people believed him. I’d really like to see a follow-up that addresses all this. 🙂

  3. Atop the Fourth Wall seems to have provided us with a legal question, though it seems like a fairly simple one.

    In the latest review (Brave and the Bold #54) the basic backstory is that the people of the town made a deal with a Mr. Jacob Stikk in colonial times (presumably 17th or 18th century). The deal was that he would rent them the land for their town in exchange for a certain rent: they would provide Stikk and his descendants either a single passenger pigeon feather each year or if they failed to provide one they would instead provide a child to labor for Stikk for that year and the contract would continue forever.

    Mr. Jacob Stikk eventually died (and presumably had no descendants who came forward to demand the rent at that time) until the time of the story (which was written in the early 1960s and presumably is set then). A man claiming to be a descendant of the original Stikk has demanded the town pay him rent and back rent, either the pigeons or the children to labor for him. In the story the town people laugh him away and he kidnaps their children and forces them to work for him. Ignoring his clearly criminal activities and the fact that he does not actually provide evidence of his ancestry this raises several questions:

    1. First is that apparently passenger pigeons (which were common at the time of the original contract) have been extinct since 1913 and it is impossible for the town to provide any, much less at least two hundred years worth. Considering that one version of the payment is now illegal because of child labor laws (which I am fairly sure were well in place by the 1960s) and the second is impossible because the birds no longer exist how can the contract theoretically function, if at all?

    2. The second is how towns in northeast America would probably be organized, and whether or not they would actually rent land from some person or simply buy it. In addition, with the original Mr. Stikk’s passing (and again no descendants coming forward to claim rent) would the town gain de jure ownership of the land as well as de facto ownership?

    See here for review:

    • I’m not sure about the enforceability of the original contract. (Let’s assume it is legal and the villain is in fact the legal heir of Stikk.)

      Assuming the contract was still valid, the town could clam the land through immanent domain or by squatters rights (if you can do that in the state). But even better, I bet the town (or the state?) could confiscate the land for back taxes.

      • Oh, good eye!
        I spotted the likelihood of eminent domain right off, but I missed adverse possession! And adverse possession has the wonderful side effect of not having to pay market rates. On the other hand, I wonder if the fifth amendment precludes a public entity from using adverse possession?

    • Could this be a “Rule against perpututies” case, as the law forbids contracts that last forever (except in certain charity cases)?

      • Ryan Davidson

        Not really. The RAP is a property law doctrine that attaches to certain conveyances of real property, not a contract law doctrine. The only real requirement about lengthy contracts is that they be in writing, but that’s the Statute of Frauds, not the RAP.

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