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Fifth Circuit Compassionate Release Improperly Denied

The Fifth Circuit held that post Shkambi, a district court cannot deny a compassionate release because the “extraordinary and compelling circumstances” are not specifically listed in USSG 1b1.13.

Fifth Circuit Compassionate Release Denial in Clark

In the fifth circuit, a compassionate release case was denied.  Clark pled guilty to one count of bank robbery and two counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence.  The district court imposed a sentence of 600 months in prison and five years of supervised release. 

Clark filed a motion for relief under 3582(c)(1)(A). He believed there  should be a reduction because “(1) based on current law, he would be subject to a sentence of only 180 months in prison and (2) he has made significant positive efforts toward rehabilitation.”

The district court denied Clark’s motion “solely on his failure to demonstrate an extraordinary or compelling circumstance as listed in the commentary of  § 1B1.13.”  Clark appealed.

The Fifth Circuit Reversal of Denial in Compassionate Release

The Fifth Circuit held that following Shkambi, “'neither the policy statement nor the commentary to [ § 1B1.13] binds a district court addressing a prisoner’s own motion under § 3582'; instead, the district court was 'bound only by  § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) and ... the sentencing factors in § 3553(a).'” 

The Appellate Court also noted that “there is no indication in the record that the district court either implicitly or explicitly considered the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors as required.   

The Fifth Circuit reversed and sent the case back down for further proceedings.  20-10094

Jeremy’s Notes: 

What is interesting and important about this case is the Fifth Circuit did not go out of its way to find that Compassionate Release motions that are based on non-retroactive portions of changes in the law.  This is different from the Sixth Circuit in Jarvis. There was no circulation of the opinion to the judges in the circuit to see if any of them wanted to bring the case up in an en banc hearing. 

This would be similar to the Seventh Circuit in Thacker.  While they were not asked to hear this matter directly, I believe that it will only be a matter of time before every circuit is asked to opine on this issue. 

Photo Credit: The John Minor Wisdom U.S. Courthouse, home of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, New Orleans, Louisiana.  Taken by Bobak Ha'Eri.  Permission: CC-By-SA-3.0

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