Penal Code 4550 - Rescuing a Prisoner

California Penal Code 4550 PC makes it a crime for a person to rescue, help in rescuing, or attempt to rescue a prisoner of the state. A “prisoner” may include:

  • An inmate of a county jail or the California State prison;
  • A member of a prison road camp; and/or,
  • A person in an officer's lawful custody.

Some examples of rescuing a prisoner under PC 4550 include:

  • Juan drives a bus through a prison road camp in the hope that his friend, working as an inmate in the camp, can break free.
  • Jill meets with her inmate boyfriend during visiting hours at the county jail and discusses how he can befriend staff/security to escape.
  • While an officer has Darnell in custody, Darnell's two friends tackle the officer so that Darnell can run away.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under Penal Code 4550. These include showing that an accused party:

Penalties

A violation of California Penal Code 4550 PC is charged as a felony, as opposed to a California misdemeanor or an infraction.

As a felony, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a term not to exceed four years.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

prisoner escaping
California Penal Code 4550 PC makes it a crime for a person to rescue, help in rescuing, or attempt to rescue a prisoner of the state.

1. The Legal Definition of Rescuing a Prisoner

California Penal Code 4550 PC makes it a crime for a person to do any of the following in relation to a prisoner:

  1. Rescue or attempt to rescue a prisoner; and,
  2. Aiding another person in rescuing or attempting to rescue a prisoner.1

Under PC 4550, a person is a prisoner of the state if he is:

  • An inmate of a county jail or the California State prison;
  • A member of a prison road camp or any jail or county road camp; or,
  • A person in an officer's lawful custody.2

Note that a person can get charged under Penal Code 4550 even if he just attempts an act of rescuing.

Attempt is a crime if:

  1. A defendant intended to commit a certain act of rescuing; and,
  2. The defendant performed some action toward committing that act.3

2. Legal Defenses

A person accused under Penal Code 4550 can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed. Please note, though, that it is critical for an accused to hire an attorney to get the best defense.

Three common defenses to PC 4550 accusations are:

  1. Necessity;
  2. Coerced confession; and/or,
  3. No probable cause.

2.1. Necessity

Under a necessity defense, a defendant essentially tries to avoid guilt by showing that he had a sufficiently good reason to commit the crime. People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.” In the context of rescuing a prisoner, an accused could attempt to show that he committed the crime since he had no other choice (e.g., because of an emergency).

2.2. Coerced Confession

This defense applies to the situation where a defendant was charged under Penal Code 4550 after a confession.

California law states that Police may not use overbearing measures to coerce a confession.

If a party can show that the police coerced him into a confession, then:

  1. The judge may exclude the confession from evidence; or,
  2. The case could get dropped altogether if the party got pressured into confessing to a crime he didn't commit.

2.3. No Probable Cause

This line of defense tries to exclude evidence that is being used against a defendant for a PC 4550 violation.

California law says that a police officer must have probable cause to detain or arrest a suspect. “Probable cause” essentially means that there is a reasonable belief that someone committed a crime (based on all of the circumstances).

If a person was stopped or arrested without probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.

man behind bars
Under Penal Code 4550, rescuing a prisoner, or attempting to do so, is a felony offense.

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

Under Penal Code 4550, rescuing a prisoner, or attempting to do so, is a felony offense.4

If the prisoner being rescued was in custody for a felony punishable with death, then PC 4550 is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for:

  • Two years;
  • Three years; or,
  • Four years.5

If the prisoner was in custody otherwise, then PC 4550 is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for:

  • 16 months;
  • Two years; or,
  • Three years.6

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to rescuing a prisoner. These are:

  1. Resisting arrest – PC 148(a)(1);
  2. Evading an officer – VC 2800.1; and,
  3. Lynching – PC 405.

4.1. Resisting Arrest – PC 148(a)(1)

California Penal Code 148(a)(1) makes it a crime for a person to resist arrest.

California's "resisting arrest" law prohibits a person from willfully

  • Resisting,
  • Delaying, or otherwise
  • Obstructing

a law enforcement officer or emergency medical technician (EMT) while s/he is performing (or attempting to perform) his/her duties.7

These duties can include arresting someone...but they can also include a wide range of other activities, such as:

  • Traveling to the scene of a crime or accident,
  • Interviewing people to investigate a crime, and/or
  • Monitoring a criminal suspect who is in custody.

The crime of resisting arrest is a misdemeanor. The penalties may include:

  • Imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year; and/or,
  • A maximum fine of $1,000.8

4.2. Evading an Officer – VC 2800.1

California Vehicle Code 2800.1 makes it a crime for a person to “evade a police officer.”

In general, a person evades an officer if he willfully attempts to flee from a police officer who is pursuing him in a car or on a bicycle.9

More specifically, a prosecutor must prove the following elements to successfully convict a person under VC 2800.1:

  1. The defendant specifically intended to evade the officer;
  2. The officer's vehicle was exhibiting at least one lighted red lamp visible from the front, and the defendant either saw it or should have seen it;
  3. The officer's vehicle was sounding a siren as necessary;
  4. The officer's vehicle was distinctively marked; and
  5. The officer's vehicle was operated by a peace officer wearing a distinctive uniform.10

A violation of Vehicle Code 2800.1 is a misdemeanor under California law. The offense is punishable by:

  • Up to one year in county jail; and/or,
  • A fine of up to $1,000.11

4.3. Lynching – PC 405

Lynching is a crime under California Penal Code 405.

Under this code section, “lynching” is the taking, by means of a riot, of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer.12

The crime of lynching is a felony. The offense is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for:

  • Two years;
  • Three years; or,
  • Four years.13

Were you accused of rescuing a prisoner in California? Call us for help…

california prisoner rescue legal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, under Penal Code 4550, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM.


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 4550 PC. The section reads as follows:

    Every person who rescues or attempts to rescue, or aids another person in rescuing or attempting to rescue any prisoner from any prison, or prison road camp or any jail or county road camp, or from any officer or person having him or her in lawful custody, is punishable as follows:

    (a) If the prisoner was in custody upon a conviction of a felony punishable with death, by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three or four years.

    (b) If the prisoner was in custody otherwise than as specified in subdivision (a), by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170, or by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year.

  2. See same. See also Zeilman v. County of Kern (1985), 168 Cal. App. 3d 1174.

  3. California Penal Code 21(a) PC.

  4. California Penal Code 4550 PC. See also California Penal Code 1170 PC.

  5. See same.

  6. See same.

  7. California Penal Code 148(a)(1) PC.

  8. See same.

  9. Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC.

  10. See same.

  11. See same.

  12. California Penal Code 405 PC.

  13. See same.

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