A Level 3 sex offender who fled the state while awaiting bedspace in prison for reporting and residency convictions was not in custody when he fled, therefore he did not escape, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled this week. Ronald Wayne Magness was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Mar. 31, 2010 after a Drew County jury found him guilty of living within 2,000 feet of a day care center and failure to notify authorities that he was living in Monticello rather than his reported address in Star City.

Because the state prison system had no available bed space at the time of his conviction, Magness was released on the condition that he not leave the state without written permission from the Drew County Sheriff and that he contact the sheriff’s office and his bondsman weekly.

Magness fled shortly after he was released and was arrested in Colorado. A Drew County jury later convicted him of second-degree escape and sentended him to 30 years in prison.

On appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court, Magness argued that the state did not show that he escaped from custody. The state, however, maintained that Magness was in “constructive custody” when he fled the state.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has never ruled whether a person who has been convicted and is awaiting prison bedspace is in custody, but it has ruled that a defendant released on bond while awaiting trial is not in custody. Magness was released on bond before he was convicted, but evidence at his Drew County Circuit Court trial indicated he was still on bond when he fled after his conviction, according to the Supreme Court.

“(Magness) was released on bond and not in custody of the law-enforcement officers, Justice Karen Baker wrote in the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion. “Thus, although he violated the conditions of the order allowing his release, he did not escape from custody.”

The court reversed the conviction and dismissed the charge.