Compassionate Release

The Federal Docket

DOJ Releases Annual First Step Act Report; Sentencing Commission Releases Updated Compassionate Release Report

Last month saw two important reports issued by the DOJ and the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The DOJ released its Annual First Step Act Report, which details the BOP’s efforts to implement the FSA, which reflects that inmates are benefiting from new programing that lets them earn time of their sentences and reduce their recidivism rates. The Sentencing Commission also released an updated Compassionate Release Report, which reflects trends among inmates requesting compassionate release or sentence reductions from the courts.

United States v. Halvon (2d Cir. February 2022)

The Second Circuit held that a district court considering a motion for compassionate release can reduce a defendant’s sentence or release them notwithstanding that the defendant was sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment. The Court affirmed denial of the defendant’s motion, however, since the district court did not base its denial on the defendant’s mandatory minimum sentence and otherwise did not abuse its discretion.

United States v. Ruvalcaba (1st Cir. February 2022)

The First Circuit held, as a matter of first impression, that a district court considering a motion for compassionate release is not bound by U.S.S.G. 1B1.13. In doing so, the Court joined every other circuit to consider the issue, except the 11th Circuit, in recognizing that district courts have broad discretion to determine whether an inmate presents “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting relief. Here, the defendant was serving a mandatory life sentence, and the Court added that district courts are free to consider “non-retroactive changes in sentencing law on an individual basis, grounded in a defendant’s particular circumstances…” Even among the circuits that agree 1B1.13 is not binding, there is a split regarding whether non-retroactive changes in sentencing laws may be considered towards an inmate’s release.

DOJ issues guidance against US Attorneys requiring Defendants to waive their right to file for Compassionate Release as part of their plea agreement.

The DOJ has issued a new memo intended to prevent US Attorneys Offices from requiring defendants to waive their right to file for compassionate release as part of their plea agreements. The practice, common in some jurisdictions, had come under fire after a recent NPR article and criticism from advocacy groups.

Outgoing BOP Director Carvajal Testifies Before Congress Again

As the U.S. House held a hearing on criminal issues, including the applicability of the First Step Act and Compassionate Release during the COVID-19 pandemic, outgoing BOP director Michael Carvajal submitted written testimony. Director Carvajal noted that the BOP has started to award earned time credits to inmates, resulting in several hundreds being released. Most were transferred to supervised release or pre-release custody such as halfway houses. Director Carvajal also stated the BOP would be applying time credits “towards supervised release for the sentences of over 4,900 inmates.” Director Carvajal further stated that, since March 26, 2020, the BOP has released more than 37,000 inmates to community custody or home confinement, though only 9,000 of those inmates were transferred “directly pursuant to the authority granted by the CARES Act.” He also reported that the BOP is aware of 4,025 compassionate release motions being granted by courts since passage of the First Step Act, with the vast majority (3,851) coming during the pandemic. Finally, Director Carvajal reported that 1,177 inmates have been released under the Elderly Offender Home Detention Program.

House to Propose Bill Creating Independent Clemency Board

reported by NPR, a group of lawmakers in the House of representatives are proposing a new law that would transform the federal clemency process. Whereas clemency petitions are currently reviewed and adjudicated by the Department of Justice, the new law would create an independent clemency board for people convicted of federal crimes. The bill, known as the FIX Clemency Act, would create a 9-member board whose members are appointed by the President.

SCOTUS Denies Certiorari, Leaves Circuit Split Intact Regarding Standard for Compassionate Release

Earlier this week, SCOTUS denied certiorari in Bryant v. U.S. In Bryant, the Eleventh Circuit created a circuit split by holding district courts considering motions for compassionate release or sentence reductions are bound by the narrow criteria under USSG 1B1.13. As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, inmates will continue facing dramatically different, and more difficult, standards based on where they were convicted.

United States v. Tinker (11th Cir. September 2021); United States v. Giron (11th Cir. October 2021);

The Eleventh Circuit issued a pair of important opinions regarding compassionate release. The Court held that district courts considering motions under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A) may assume that a defendant meets some of the statutory requirements while denying their motion based on their failure to meet others, they may analyze the three statutory requirements in any order, and they may deny a compassionate release motion after considering only one of the statutory factors.

United States v. Ronald Hunter (6th Cir. August 2021)

Limiting the discretion district courts have grant motions for compassionate release or sentence reductions, the Sixth Circuit held that a district court cannot base a finding of “extraordinary and compelling reasons” on non-retroactive changes in the law or facts that existed when the defendant was sentenced, even taken together.

Biden Admin Considering Clemency for Drug Offenders on Home Confinement

According to the New York Times, the Biden administration is considering allowing certain inmates on CARES Act home confinement to remain free if they have a prior conviction for a nonviolent drug offense and have less than four years on their sentence. As things stand, any other type of inmate on home confinement will have to report back to prison when the pandemic ends.

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