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Southern District of Ohio Grants Compassionate Release: Burke

In Burke, The Court granted compassionate release to a person with an end of life diagnosis.

Burke pled guilty to a receiving child pornography case under 18 U.S.C. 2252(a).  He was sentenced to 151 months in prison and 20 years of supervised release in 2012.  He had served 2/3 of his sentence as of the day of this ruling.  He is also 73 years old.  He received a prognosis that gave him no more than 18 months to live.  He sought compassionate release from the warden and was denied.  He sought a compassionate release

The District Court recounted the law around compassionate release and what is required for a court to grant said release:

“First, the Court must initially find that “extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction.” … Second, before granting a reduced sentence, the Court must find “that such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission”... But district courts may skip this second step and have “full discretion to define ‘extraordinary and compelling’ without consulting the policy statement U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13” when an incarcerated person files the motion for compassionate release, because  § 1B1.13 is not an “applicable” policy statement when an incarcerated person files the motion... Third and finally, even if the Court finds that extraordinary and compelling reasons exist, the Court may not grant a release before considering the sentencing factors set forth in § 3553(a)…This last step gives the Court “substantial discretion” in deciding whether to reduce or modify a sentence.

The court determined that Burke satisfied the exhaustion requirement for compassionate release so the court looked at the substantive criteria. 

Extraordinary and compelling circumstances:

The government did not dispute that Burke’s poor health and life expectancy was an extraordinary and compelling circumstance that warranted a compassionate release.  The court agreed as well. 

3553(a) factors:

The court listed the following factors to be at issue under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a):

(1) the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant;

(2) the need for the sentence imposed—

(A) to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense;

(B) to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;

(C) to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and

(D) to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner[.]

(to be clear, there are many more factors than this, this was just what was listed). 

The court noted that the first factor, the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant, had weight both for and against.  The court noted that the nature and circumstances of this crime weighed against release.  But equally weighing in favor of release was his poor health and the need for assistance with even the basic needs.    “If this Court denies compassionate release here, it will have for all practical purposes converted Burke’s sentence into a life sentence. This Court did not impose a life sentence.”

The court also noted that Factor 2(A)-(D) also weighed in favor of release.  Burke served 2/3rds of his sentence and it took what little time he had left.  “While a reduced sentence would not provide just punishment if Burke had longer to live, here the sentence has taken nearly all the time Burke had left.”  The court also determined that “there is little probability that Burke will reoffend in the remaining time he has left. And, given that the sentence served exceeds Burke’s life-expectancy, additional incarceration would not hold any deterrent value.” 

Finally, the court determined that rehabilitation is a non-factor here.  “At Burke’s point in life, there is no significant benefit to any additional education or vocational training. As to medical care which the government could provide, it is important to note that Burke’s medical prognosis is terminal. As such, the end result will be the same whether it occurs in prison or at home. Burke’s desire is simply to die at home.” 

The court granted a reduction in sentence down to time served plus six months for probation and Burke to make the appropriate arrangements.   2:12-cr-186(1)

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