Compassionate Release

The Federal Docket

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.

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.

District Court Grants Compassionate Release Based on Changes in Marijuana Laws

A district court in the Eastern District of Washington recently granted an inmate’s request for compassionate release based on changes in marijuana laws since the defendant was convicted of growing marijuana and using a firearm. The opinion is an extension of the argument, adopted by several circuits, that changes to sentencing laws can be the basis for an inmate’s sentence reduction if the inmate would have been sentenced to less time under today’s laws, even where Congress does not make these changes retroactive.

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.

New BOP Memo Expands Eligibility for Home Confinement

The DOJ recently issued a memorandum to BOP facilities expanding the number of inmates who are eligible for release to home confinement under the CARES Act. While neither the BOP nor the DOJ have published the memo yet, Keri Blakinger of the Marshall Project has obtained a copy of the memo and confirmed its authenticity with the BOP. Among other things, the new criteria allows more inmates with low-level disciplinary issues or Low PATTERN scores to obtain release to home confinement.

BOP States It Has No Immediate Plans to Send Inmates on Home Confinement Back to Prison, But That Could Chance

BOP Director Michael Carvajal testified before the Senate on April 15, 2021. He testified that the BOP does not currently have any immediate plans to send inmates back to prison who are currently on home confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The director also testified, however, that Congress needs to pass a law to ensure inmates are not send back when the COVID-19 emergency order is lifted.

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