Compassionate release, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), is one of the most exciting legal developments in recent years for individuals serving federal prison sentences. Compassionate release gives judges the authority and power to reduce the sentences of federal inmates upon a finding of “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances.
While this may not seem like a big deal, it is. Until recently, it was virtually impossible to obtain a reduction of a federal sentence – no matter how unfair the sentence may have been. Now, under compassionate release, almost anything is possible.
There are two primary categories of federal compassionate release. They are as follows:
First, compassionate release may be granted based on health issues related to COVID-19. Over the past nine months, prisons and jails have experienced some of the worst outbreaks in the country. Studies show that inmates are four times more likely to become infected than the general public. It is almost impossible for an inmate to be safe inside a prison – where medical care is inadequate and where “social distancing” is non-existent.
In the face of this crisis, compassionate release has provided a form of relief for federal inmates who suffer from medical conditions that put them at risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Compassionate release allows an inmate to file a motion with the district court, arguing that their vulnerability to COVID-19 establishes an “extraordinary and compelling” reason to warrant a sentence reduction. At Brown Law, we have been able to secure compassionate release for several medically vulnerable clients across the country. Read more about our success HERE.
Second, an entirely new area of law has emerged in which compassionate release can be obtained based on the unfairness of a federal sentence – even if the inmate does not have a preexisting health problem. Recent changes in the law give individual judges broad discretion to determine what constitutes “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for granting a sentence reduction. Recently, the Fourth Circuit affirmed this standard in United States v. McCoy. Three other federal circuits have similar precedents.
With McCoy and other decisions like it, inmates are now able to obtain compassionate release if they have received disproportionately long sentences based on outdated sentencing guidelines or if they have undergone significant rehabilitation while serving a prison sentence. In particular, compassionate release seems most likely to succeed in cases were a judge was forced to impose a harsh sentence that would no longer be imposed by today’s standards. It is also likely that a judge could use compassionate release to fix an error that occurred in a past sentencing, or to correct a miscarriage of justice.
This is truly an extraordinary development in the law, and we at Brown Law are very excited by it. Read more about compassionate release and the McCoy decision HERE.
If you are aware of someone who may be eligible for compassionate release, please contact an attorney Brown Law to discuss your options.