All, I have two 3582 compassionate release cases today that are a little different from what we have done in the past few weeks. They show how you can look for things that are different when seeking a compassionate release as far as extraordinary and compelling circumstances go.
3582 Compassionate Release even with 851 enhancements: United States vs. Juan Ledezma-Rodriguez, 2020 WL 3971517, 3:00-CR-00071, Southern District of Iowa
Ledezma and His Procedural History
Ledezma was charged in 2001 with a superseding indictment with violations of immigration, firearm and drug laws. The Government also filed two 851 notices for prior minor drug convictions. He was found guilty by a jury on some of the counts, and the court sentenced Ledezma to life imprisonment as statutorily required.
The court wrote a letter in support of his commutation. The court also urged the US Attorney to vacate his convictions under the Holloway Doctrine, United States v. Holloway, 68 F. Supp. 3d 310 (E.D.N.Y. 2014). Ledezma would face a mandatory minimum of just 15 years if sentenced today.
On June 1, 2020, through counsel, Ledezma reached out to the Bureau of Prisons, asking for an early release under 18 USC 3582. He argued, “(1) the fact he would not have received his life sentence under modern law; (2) his twenty years incarcerated; (3) his rehabilitation; (4) his need to care for his gravely ill mother; and (5) his risk of catching COVID-19 in prison constituted extraordinary and compelling reasons justifying release.” Ledezma then filed his motion for relief under 18 USC 3582 in district court. The government, “citing this Court’s prior rulings on compassionate release motions and the “facts of this case,” the Government declined to make or “repeat” any specific arguments.”
Exhaustion of administrative rights
The court determined that Ledezma satisfied the gate-keeping provision because thirty days have passed since the BOP received his request. His exhaustion of administrative rights meant that the court could address the merits.
Extraordinary and Compelling Reasons for 3582 Compassionate release
The court noted that Congress never defined what is “extraordinary and compelling.” The court noted that the commission provided a list of specific examples such as “terminal illness, an elderly inmate’s rapidly declining health, and care for dependent family members.” The court also included a catch-all if “there exists in the defendant’s case an extraordinary and compelling reason other than, or in combination with, the” examples described. Further the United States Sentencing Commission never amended their guidelines after the FIRST STEP ACT because they do not have a quorum of voting members to change them. Given this, courts have determined that the Commission lacks an applicable policy statement regarding when a court can grant a compassionate release. Because of that, courts have determined that the court can determine whether any extraordinary and compelling reasons other than those delineated in USSG 1B1.13 warrant granting relief
The court determined that Ledezma’s life sentence was unjust. In this case, Ledezma had been found guilty for two prior offenses where he served a combined ninety days in jail. Those two offenses triggered a mandatory life sentence here. His drug offenses do not meet the standard for a “serious drug felony” under the FIRST STEP Act because he served less than a year for each offense. Ledezma would only have faced a mandatory 10 for the drugs and a consecutive 5 for the 924c. Having served in prison since 2000, Ledezma would be eligible for immediate release. “The Court understands the importance of finality in criminal proceedings. Even so, justice has a role, too.
Ledezma also argued that his substantial rehabilitation constituted an extraordinary and compelling reason. The court noted that “Rehabilitation of the defendant alone shall not be considered” sufficiently extraordinary and compelling to justify compassionate release. § 994(t) (emphasis added). Yet a “statute should be construed so that effect is given to all its provisions…This means that for the word “alone” to do any work—as it must—the statute allows courts to consider rehabilitation as part of a compassionate release motion. Thus, several courts, including this one, have found a defendant’s rehabilitation to be part of the extraordinary and compelling reasons favoring release.”
The court noted that Ledezma has not incurred an infraction since 2014 and the Bureau of Prisons has downgraded his security classification as well. He also received the equivalent of a high school diploma and took advantage of the programming until it was shut down.
The court indicated that Ledezma’s prison had two cases of the virus. But the court also noted this public health crisis was difficult to control in prison facilities and that a member of the prison population was more likely to contract COVID-19 than a free person. “Thus, the presence of a once-in-a-hundred years pandemic in and around Defendant’s facility cuts in favor of his release.”
Dependent family member
Ledezma indicated that he also had a family member with a debilitating medical condition. While he provided much about her medical condition he did not provide enough information to show that he needed to be released to take care of her. Despite this, the court determined that extraordinary and compelling circumstances existed.
The court also was required to consider if 3582 compassionate release relief comported with the 3553(a) factors. The court noted that Ledezma was forty-seven years old and was half as likely to be convicted of a crime when he was convicted of his latest offense. The court also noted that the need for the sentence imposed was weaker now given that he had already served five years more than the statutory mandatory minimum for his conduct. While Ledezma had also been deported three times, those did not trigger his life sentence. In addition, any lingering public safety concerns were moot because Ledezma would be deported following release.
The court GRANTED the 3582 compassionate release request, reduced the rest of Ledezma’s Sentence to time served, and ordered US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be alerted of the date and time of his release.
BOOKER AS AN EXTRAORDINARY AND COMPELLING CIRCUMSTANCE FOR COMPASSIONATE RELEASE: United States vs. Patrick M. VIGNEAU
C.R. No. 97-cr-33-JJM-LDA, District of Rhode Island, 2020 WL 4345105. Mr. Vigneau was found guilty of engaging in a Continuing Criminal Enterprise and possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute as well as other crimes. He was sentenced to 365 months of incarceration and five years of supervised release. He filed a motion for release under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A).
Similarly to Ledezma, the court noted that the United States Sentencing Commission’s Sentencing guidelines are now incompatible with the statute, the court determined that it did not need to follow the outdated portion of USSG 1B1.13. When evaluating congressional intent, the court noticed that the FSA provision was entitled “Increasing the Use and Transparency of Compassionate Release[.]” The court reasoned that this, as well as other reasons, give the courts the ability to rule on an incarcerated person’s ability to seek a compassionate release.
The court also found that congress wanted the courts to reduce unusually long sentences, and to reduce sentences where amended guidelines suggest a shorter sentence. The court noted that a recent Sentencing Commission Report indicated that “[t]he national average sentence for marijuana trafficking offenders in 2017 was twenty-seven months.” Further, “one district court, in assessing a motion for compassionate release, noted the median lengths of sentences imposed in 2019 for a selection of especially heinous crimes: twenty years for murder, fifteen years for sexual abuse, and ten years for kidnapping.”
Impact of Booker
The court also noted that “following Booker, the ranges in the Sentencing Guidelines are no longer mandatory so long as a sentence follows statutory requirements. The Court in sentencing Mr. Vigneau was not allowed to consider a sentence outside the range. Thus, it is now proper for the Court to consider the fact that the Guidelines have changed–from mandatory to discretionary– in determining whether to grant compassionate release.”
Impact of Marijuana and his CCE Conviction
The court noted that a minority of states have legalized recreational marijuana but that more jurisdictions were likely to do so soon. While marijuana is still illegal federally, the court noted that it was unlikely that the court would have granted Vigneau the same amount of time today. Further, “According to Mr. Vigneau’s research, and not challenged by the government, no one has been charged with a continuing criminal enterprise in this District in over twenty years. The facts in the presentence report would most likely support a drug offense charge that would have had a Sentencing Guideline range much lower than the Guidelines applied in Mr. Vigneau’s sentencing in 1998 and without the twenty-year mandatory minimum for the CCE conviction.”
The court found that the rest of the requirements were also met and granted Vigneau 3582 relief.
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The Potential of COVID-19 Reinfection in Federal Prisons and the Need for More Compassionate Release
Evidence about COVID-19 reinfection is starting to appear. Find out more about what this means for federal inmates here.
In Kirschner, the District of Indiana granted 3582 compassionate release relief to a person due to coronavirus concerns.
The administrative remedy process has become newly relevant in the context of compassionate release cases related to COVID-19. If you are thinking about seeking compassionate release, especially release based on COVID-19 dangers, the administrative remedy process is vital to understand.
In United States vs. Alam, the 6th Circuit upheld a dismissal of a compassionate release case for failure to wait 30 days.
In United States vs. Fischman, 4:16-cr-00246-HSG, the Northern District of California determined a way that an inmate can receive 3582 relief even when they are COVID-19 positive