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6th Circuit Rules Against Compassionate Release: McKinnie

The Sixth Circuit makes the compassionate release waters murkier in McKinnie, the denial of a motion to reduce sentence.

FACTS: Repeat Offender Seeks Compassionate Release for Havis Error, COVID-19 risk

McKinnie was sentenced to 151 months imprisonment for federal drug crimes. As part of the analysis, it was determined that McKinnie was a career offender because he had two prior convictions for drug offenses.

After sentencing the Sixth Circuit decided Havis, where the court stated that an attempt crime is not a predicate "controlled substance offense" for a career offender enhancement. McKinnie filed a 3582 motion for relief indicating that the Havis error (which meant that he was no longer a career offender), his obesity, hypertension and risk of contracting COVID-19 constituted extraordinary and compelling circumstances that warranted a reduction in sentence. The district court ended up denying the motion and McKinnie appealed.

On Appeal:  6th Circuit Affirmed the Decision

In ruling on this case, the court "knocked out" several different theories of relief for extraordinary and compelling circumstances. We will cover each one in turn:

Judicial Decisions concerning the guidelines as extraordinary and compelling circumstances:

The Sixth Circuit recently covered this in United States v. Hunter, 12 F.4th 555 (6th Cir. 2021). In that case the defendant had been sentenced pre-Booker and sought a 3582 motion. The Sixth Circuit indicated that “[j]ust as courts cannot use 3582(c)(1)(A) as an ‘end run around’ Congress’ retroactivity choices, courts cannot use that statute to circumvent binding precedent declaring the non-retroactive effect of new rules of criminal procedure.” As a result, courts in the 6th Circuit could use non-retroactive presidential developments only when weighting the 3553(a) factors.

The courts indicated that same reasoning applied here. The court went on to say that the “'vague and amorphous phrase' Congress chose —'extraordinary and compelling reasons'—does not license district courts “to treat non-retroactive precedent as a basis to alter a final judgment [ ]and release a prisoner[ ].”

Combining Havis Error with COVID-19 Risk, Obesity and Hypertension

McKinney tried to combine several things together to show extraordinary and compelling circumstances.

The court noted that rehabilitation alone is not extraordinary and compelling circumstances. See 28 USC 994(t).
The court also indicated that in the 6th Circuit, risk to COVID is also can no longer be an extraordinary and compelling circumstance for purposes of a 3582 motion, See United States v. Lemons, 15 F.4th 747, 751 (6th Cir. 2021), see also United States v. Broadfield, 5 F.4th 801, 803 (7th Cir. 2021).
The court stated that McKinnie's hypertension and obesity were also not new developments as they were known by the district court at the time of sentencing, which mean that they cannot be an extraordinary and compelling circumstance. See United States v. Lemons, 15 F.4th 747, 750 (6th Cir. 2021). The court stated that since each individual ground failed to justify a sentence reduction that combining them would also not justify a sentence reduction.

Owens and McCall

McKinnie tried to allege that United States v. Owens, 996 F.3d 755 (6th Cir. 2021) allowed him to receive relief. But Owens, a new judicial decision, could not be extraordinary and compelling after Hunter. And the Court called McCall a flawed decision that was inconsistent with the other cases in the district.

The Sixth Circuit Affirmed the decision denying the compassionate release. 24 F.4th 583, No. 21-3608

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