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Eastern District of Louisiana Grants Compassionate Release: Ciprano

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FACTS:  5th Circuit CR case serving life with two 851 convictions

In 1992, Ciprano was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine.  He was convicted and sentenced to life as he had two prior felony drug convictions under 21 USC 841(b).  

In 2022, Ciprano filed a compassionate release motion indicating that he would no longer face a mandatory sentence of life if he were sentneced today.  He also indicated that he is 67 years old and suffers from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, proistate problems and eye problems and as such he is entitled to compassionate release as an elderly inmate with medical conditions.  Third he indicated that he was susceptible to COVID-19 due to the crowded conditions at his prison.  He further indicated that he was not a threat to the community because he would be deported to Columbia.  

The government opposed his motion.  Among other things the government indicated that “the Fifth Circuit has not established that non-retroactive changes in sentencing laws justify compassionate release.”

HOLDING:  The court granted compassionate release 

REASONING:  The court looked at each of the three factors that Ciprano discussed and considered whether they constituted extraordinary and compelling reasons for a compassionate release. 

The court noted that the Fifth Circuit has not ruled on whether the First Step Act’s amendments (regarding 851 enhancements) constituted extraordinary and compelling reasons, leaving it up to the discretion of the districts.  This particular court has ruled on this issue before in the affirmative.  

The district has also found that a defendant’s age and medical conditions alone are not sufficient to find extraordinary and compelling reasons.  Although the Fifth Circuit indicates that they are not bound by USSG 1B1.13, they still find that it provides guidance.  USSG 1B1.13 indicates that extraordinary and compelling reasons for medical conditions applies when:

[t]he defendant is suffering from a terminal illness” or “a serious physical or medical condition” or “functional or cognitive impairment,” or is “experiencing deteriorating physical or mental health because of the aging process,” that “substantially diminishes the ability of the defendant to provide self-care within the environment of a correctional facility and from which he or she is not expected to recover.”

And for age, 

“[t]he defendant (i) is at least 65 years old; (ii) is experiencing a serious deterioration in physical or mental health because of the aging process; and (iii) has served at least 10 years or 75 percent of his or her term of imprisonment, whichever is less.”

For COVID-19 concerns the window is closing in the Fifth Circuit:

“Courts, including this Court, have found that a defendant's concerns about being susceptible to COVID-19 generally do not constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons for compassionate release.”

Here, the court indicated that not only has congress recognized that Mr. Ciprano’s crime no longer warrants life in prison, but the amount of time that he has served satisfies the minimum term that a court would impose if sentencing him today:

“Thus, Congress has recognized that the crime of which Mr. Ciprano was convicted no longer warrants the extremely severe punishment of life in prison. Moreover, Mr. Ciprano has already served twenty-nine years in prison, which satisfies the minimum term a court might impose if sentencing Mr. Ciprano today (assuming that his prior convictions would qualify as “serious drug felonies” under the Act's definition). Given these facts, the disparity between the sentence Mr. Ciprano received twenty-nine years ago and the sentence he would receive today constitutes an extraordinary and compelling reason to reduce his sentence and grant compassionate release.”

The court noted that Ciprano’s medical conditions on their own do not reach the level of extraordinary and compelling reasons but when combined with the changes in the sentencing laws, they are more additionally persuasive. However his Covid-19 concerns were not sufficient grounds for release as the court stated that he was fully vaccinated.  

Regarding the 3553(a) factors Ciprano’s offense was not violent and he did not have a history of violence before or after he was incarcerated.  In addition the twenty nine years that he had already served promoted respect for the law and reflected the seriousness of the offense.  The court also stated that similar defendants who are sentenced today do not face the harsh punishment of life imprisonment.  

The court GRANTED Ciprano’s compassionate release motion. 92-350


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