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

The Federal Docket

December 8, 2021

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari in Bryant v. United States. As we reported back in May, the Eleventh Circuit became the first, and so far the only, Court of Appeals in the country to hold that district courts considering motions for compassionate release are bound by the narrow criteria under U.S.S.G. 1B1.13. Section 1B1.13 only allows judges to release inmates or reduce their sentences if they have terminal illnesses, cannot take care of themselves due to medical conditions, or have a child or spouse that are incapacitated. Every other Court of Appeals has held that district courts have discretion to determine whether an inmate’s reasons are sufficient to grant a sentence reduction.

Because this issue is so important, and since courts strive for consistency and uniformity across the country, it was a big surprise when the Supreme Court declined to take up the case and decide whether the Eleventh Circuit was right or wrong in Bryant. As a result of the Supreme Court’s inaction, an inmate with a conviction in Alabama, Florida, or Georgia who files a motion for a sentence reduction will be held to a much different, and much more difficult, standard than inmates with convictions from other states. Advocates remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will address the circuit split soon, and there are other litigants requesting certiorari, but it won’t be in Bryant v. United States.

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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