People v. Unger

66 Ill. 2d 333, 5 Ill. Dec. 848, 362 N.E.2d 319 (1977)



Conditions that are relevant factors to be used in assessing claims of necessity are: (1) the prisoner is faced with a specific threat of death, forcible sexual attack or substantial bodily injury in the immediate future; (2) there is no time for a complaint to the authorities or there exists a history of futile complaints which make any result from such complaints illusory; (3) there is no time or opportunity to resort to the courts; (4) there is no evidence of force or violence used towards prison personnel or other "innocent" persons in the escape; and (5) the prisoner immediately reports to the proper authorities when he has attained a position of safety from the immediate threat. The existence of each condition is not, as a matter of law, necessary to establish a meritorious necessity defense. The conditions are matters which go to the weight and credibility of the defendant's testimony. A court will not weigh the evidence where the question is whether an instruction is justified. The absence of one or more of the elements listed does not necessarily mandate a finding that the defendant cannot assert the defense of necessity.


Defendant was charged with escape. At trial, defendant testified that he had been threatened by a fellow inmate. The inmate brandished a knife in an attempt to force defendant to engage in homosexual activities. Defendant was subsequently transferred to an honor farm and was assaulted and sexually molested by three inmates. Five days after the assault, defendant was threatened because it was believed that defendant reported the assault to authorities. Defendant claimed he left the honor farm to save his life and planned to return once he found someone that could help him. The trial court instructed the jury to disregard defendant's reasons for escape and refused to instruct the jury on the statutory defenses of compulsion and necessity. Defendant was convicted, and he appealed. The appellate court reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial, holding that the instruction was reversible error. The State appealed. The court held that defendant was entitled to submit his defense of necessity to the jury. The appellate court's judgment was affirmed.


Did the trial court err in instructing the jury that it had to disregard the reasons given for defendant's escape?




It is clear that defendant introduced some evidence to support the defense of necessity. As previously mentioned, that is sufficient to justify the giving of an appropriate instruction to the jury. Defendant testified regarding threats to him while in detention. Though the State's evidence cast a doubt upon the defendant's motives for escape and upon the reasonableness of defendant's assertion that such conduct was necessary, the defendant was entitled to have the jury consider the defense on the basis of his testimony.

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