No. 1323 October Term, 1979, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Trial Division, Criminal Section, Nos. 759-61, 765 June Term, 1978.
C. Van Youngman, Philadelphia, for appellant.
Allan Sacks, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia, for Commonwealth, appellee.
Wickersham, Hoffman and Van der Voort, JJ.
[ 287 Pa. Super. Page 14]
Appellant contends that the lower court erred in disallowing evidence of prison conditions to establish a defense to the charge of escape. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of sentence.
On May 29, 1978, seven inmates, including appellant, used hooks and ropes to climb through a skylight and over a wall and escape from Holmesburg Prison in Northeast Philadelphia. Later that evening appellant and his fellow escapees robbed three men of approximately $1,000 at a tire store several blocks from the prison. The seven then fled the scene in a van which belonged to one of the robbery victims. On the morning of May 31, 1978, police found and arrested
[ 287 Pa. Super. Page 15]
appellant and four of the other escapees in a house in South Philadelphia, thirteen to fourteen miles from the prison. Appellant was subsequently tried jointly with five of his fellow escapees and convicted by a jury of escape, conspiracy to escape, and robbery.*fn1 Following denial of post-verdict motions, the lower court sentenced appellant to concurrent prison terms of two-and-one-half years to seven years for each conviction. This appeal followed.
At trial appellant and his co-defendants joined in an effort to present evidence of intolerable conditions at Holmesburg Prison, including inadequate medical care and unsanitary facilities, for the purpose of establishing the defenses of duress and/or justification to the charges of escape. The lower court ruled evidence of such general prison conditions inadmissible and limited any such exculpatory evidence to proof of immediate threats to the lives or personal safety of appellant and his co-defendants had they remained in the prison. Appellant challenges the correctness of this ruling.
Our Crimes Code defines the defense of "duress" as follows:
It is a defense that the actor engaged in the conduct charged to constitute an offense because he was coerced to do so by the use of, or a threat to use, unlawful force against his person or the person of another, which a person of reasonable firmness in his situation would have been unable to resist.
18 Pa.C.S.A. § 309(a). Additionally, the Crimes Code, in relevant part, defines the defense of ...