Sixth and Seventh Circuits Hold Courts Have Broad Discretion to Determine Inmate Eligibility for Compassionate Release

The Federal Docket

December 2, 2020

Two more federal circuit courts have held that a district court considering an inmate’s motion for a sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A), also referred to as “compassionate release,” can exercise its own independent discretion to determine whether the inmate has presented “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting relief. The Sixth Circuit in United States v. Jones and the Seventh Circuit in United States v. Gunn joined the Second Circuit in United States v. Brooker in holding that district courts are not bound by the Sentencing Commission’s narrow criteria listed under U.S.S.G. 1B1.13.

Under Section 3582(c)(1)(A), a court can modify an inmate’s sentence if there are “extraordinary and compelling reasons” supporting a sentence reduction. Previously, only the BOP could file motions for compassionate release on behalf of inmates, but the First Step Act now allows inmates to file these requests, directly with the court. Section 1B1.13 was promulgated by the U.S. Sentencing Commission and listed what conditions the court can consider as “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” Those reasons were: 1) an inmate’s terminal illness, 2) an inmate’s debilitating medical condition, 3) the incapacitation of an inmate’s spouse or the caregiver of an inmate’s child, and 4) any other reason as determined by the BOP director.

Now, inmates convicted within the Second, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits can seek release or sentence reductions based on a number of other reasons. For example, a district court can now reduce an inmate’s sentence or release them outright based on non-terminal illnesses, the excessiveness of their sentences, an illness to a family member, or any other reasons the court considers worthy.

Our firm has filed dozens of motions for compassionate release on behalf of inmates all over the country, and we have succeeded in helping several of them get home early. In some of these cases, inmates were released based on their excessive sentences and other reasons not listed under 1B1.13. Our compassionate release attorneys are experienced, hardworking, and always up-to-date on the latest developments in the law. Contact our firm to speak to one of our compassionate release attorneys today.

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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