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

The Federal Docket

May 21, 2021

In a split decision, the Eleventh Circuit became the first, and so far the only, circuit court to hold that district courts reviewing an inmate’s sentence for a sentence reduction under 18 USC. 3582(c)(1)(A) can only grant a reduction if the inmate falls within one of the four narrow categories under USSG 1B1.13.

Until the Eleventh Circuit weighed in, every circuit to consider the issue (all except the 1st and 3rd circuits) had held that Section 1B1.13 is no longer applicable since the First Step Act amended 3582(c)(1)(A) to allow an inmate to bring their own motion before the court. Under 1B1.13, which by its own text applies only to motions brought by the BOP director, an inmate can only qualify for a sentence reduction if he has a terminal or debilitating medical illness, he is old and has served the vast majority of his sentence, his spouse or child needs a caregiver and no one else is available, or the BOP has determined a reduction is warranted. Under the majority approach, courts can find a reduction warranted based on other considerations, such as the excessive length of an inmate’s sentence, changes in the law, their youth at the time of their offense, and other factors.

For inmates who have to file in a district court within the Eleventh Circuit, however, they won’t be able to cite those reasons. The net effect of the Court’s ruling will undoubtedly be to reduce the number of sentence reductions issued, at least until and if the Supreme Court weighs in or the Eleventh Circuit reviews the case sitting en banc.

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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