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U.S. Sentencing Commission Releases “Compassionate Release Data Report”

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has released data reflecting the number of “compassionate release” motions that have been granted during the COVID-19 pandemic (21%). The report breaks down the data by showing how many were granted and denied by district and by the year when the inmate’s original sentence was imposed, as well as other information.

Ninth and Eleventh Circuits Split Over Amended Safety Valve Relief

The Eleventh Circuit and Ninth Circuit created a circuit split concerning the proper interpretation of the safety valve under 18 USC 3553(f), particularly as it was amended by the First Step Act. The courts disagreed over the proper interpretation of the word “and” in the list of requirements a defendant must meet for their criminal history to allow them to qualify for the safety valve. The Ninth Circuit’s interpretation would allow far more defendants qualify.

Eleventh Circuit Creates Circuit Split on Standard for Sentence Reductions–holds district courts have limited discretion to grant.

The Eleventh Circuit became the first, and so far the only, circuit court to hold that district courts considering sentence reductions motions under 3582(c)(1)(A) are bound by the criteria under USSG 1B1.13. To date, seven other circuits have held that district courts have discretion to determine if an inmate has presented extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting a reduction. District courts in the Eleventh Circuit now have much less discretion to reduce an inmate’s sentence.

Recent Supreme Court Opinions

Greer v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In an almost unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that defendants in post-conviction proceedings alleging plain error under Rehaif must make a sufficient showing that they could have presented evidence at trial that they did not know they were a felon at the time they possessed the firearm. The Court affirmed the conviction of two defendants, one who pleaded guilty and one who was convicted by a jury, after finding that neither of them had presented any evidence or argument that they were unaware that they were felons and that both had multiple prior convictions.

Borden v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 10, 2021)

In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court held that prior convictions for offenses that only require a mens rea of “recklessness” cannot serve as predicate convictions under the “elements clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act. The Court reasoned that the language requiring that an offense involved the use of force “against the person of another,” reflected that the perpetrator must act purposefully and intentionally.

Van Buren v. United States (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2021)

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that a defendant “exceeds authorized access” to a computer under the CFAA if they access information from an area in the computer that they are not authorized to access, and the Court clarified that a defendant does not violate the CFAA simply by using their authorized access for an improper purpose or motive. In doing so, the Court rejected the Government’s broad reading of the law and cautioned it could apply to innocuous conduct such as employees using work computers to send personal emails.

Recent Circuit Court Opinions

United States v. Abdulaziz (1st Cir. June 2021)

The First Circuit vacated a defendant’s sentence which had been enhanced based on a 2014 conviction under state law for distributing marijuana, which the sentencing court held was a “controlled substance offense” under the Guidelines. The First Circuit held that convictions under state laws that do not distinguish between marijuana and hemp, as defined and legalized under federal law, cannot serve as “controlled substance offenses” under the Guidelines.

Ninth and Eleventh Circuits Split Over Amended Safety Valve Relief

The Eleventh Circuit and Ninth Circuit created a circuit split concerning the proper interpretation of the safety valve under 18 USC 3553(f), particularly as it was amended by the First Step Act. The courts disagreed over the proper interpretation of the word “and” in the list of requirements a defendant must meet for their criminal history to allow them to qualify for the safety valve. The Ninth Circuit’s interpretation would allow far more defendants qualify.

Eleventh Circuit Creates Circuit Split on Standard for Sentence Reductions–holds district courts have limited discretion to grant.

The Eleventh Circuit became the first, and so far the only, circuit court to hold that district courts considering sentence reductions motions under 3582(c)(1)(A) are bound by the criteria under USSG 1B1.13. To date, seven other circuits have held that district courts have discretion to determine if an inmate has presented extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting a reduction. District courts in the Eleventh Circuit now have much less discretion to reduce an inmate’s sentence.

The Federal Docket

The Federal Docket is a monthly newsletter providing lawyers and the community a summary of recent important decisions in the area of federal criminal law from the United States Supreme Court and the Circuit Courts of Appeal. The opinions are compiled, summarized and analyzed by Tom Church, an attorney in our firm’s federal criminal defense practice.

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