Court Grants Compassionate Release Relief
In United States vs. Maumau, 08-cr-00758, the District of Utah granted 3582 "Compassionate Release" Relief for a person who was imprisoned under an excessively long "Old Law" Pre-First Step Act 924(c) sentence.
Maumau was serving a sentence of 55 years in prison (down from 57 originally sentenced). He was sentenced to 7 years in prison for his first 924(c), 25 years for his second 924(c) case and 25 years for his third 924(c) case (he was sentenced prior to the passage of the FIRST STEP ACT). He filed a petition for relief under 18 USC 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) claiming “extraordinary and compelling circumstances.”
The court determined that there three questions that had to be resolved: did the court have the discretion to provide relief, should the court exercise that discretion to modify Maumau’s sentence and if Mr. Maumau is an appropriate candidate the how much should his sentence be reduced by.
The court first determined that they had the discretion to provide relief. The court determined that under the existing sentencing commission policy the court did not have the discretion to grant release. However, that policy had not been updated since the passage of the FIRST STEP ACT and it was unlikely to be updated soon given that the commission cannot amend their guidelines (the commission only has two voting members and needs 4 in order to amend their policy and guidelines).
The sentencing commission’s policy currently indicates that a court can only grant a compassionate release “upon motion of the director of the Bureau of Prisons.” The guidelines then outline 4 situations where relief us appropriate. The last situation is a “catch-all” provision. Mr. Maumau was seeking relief under that catch all provision.
Maumau further argued that because the First Step Act now allows EITHER the director OR the defendant to file a motion for compassionate release that the catch-all provision’s portion stating that relief could be granted “upon motion of the director of the Bureau of Prisons” is now inconsistent with the law. The court noted that “a majority of district courts to consider the question have embraced Mr. Maumau’s position[.]” The court cited Cantu, Beck and the other cases that reflect this.
The cases that the government presented that indicate that the Sentencing Commission’s policy remain binding. The court stated that those cases “address[ed] compassionate release requests that were based on subdivisions A through C of the Sentencing Commission’s policy—for medical condition, age, or caregiver status—but did not discuss the catch-all provision in subdivision D, which is at issue here.”
The court went on to note that one of the express purposes of the First Step Act was to “increase[e] the use and transparency of compassionate release” and continuing to give the Bureau of Prisons Director a veto over those requests would defeat that goal.
The court then decided whether Mr. Maumau was entitled to relief. The court determined that “Mr. Maumau was 20 years old when he was arrested and was 24 years old when he was
sentenced.” The court also indicated that they were concerned regarding the length of that sentence, having agreed with Maumau’s attorney about the unjustness of the mandatory sentence back at his original sentencing. The court previously submitted a letter to the US Attorney urging him to correct this injustice in Maumau’s case.
The court determined that as part of the FIRST STEP Act congress eliminated the consecutive stacking that was required for 924(c). Citing Brown:
The [First Step Act] clarified that § 924(c) counts can only be stacked if the second offense occurs after a final conviction on the first offense. § 403(a), 132 Stat. at 5221-22. In other words, if sentenced today, a court would add only five years to [a defendant’s] sentence . . ., not thirty.United States vs. brown, 2019 WL 4942051 at *5.
The government pointed out that Mr. Maumu’s request is unlike the majority of compassionate release requests because Maumau is not suffering from medical or age-related physical limitations. But the court was not unpersuaded, citing a DOJ Inspector General’s report stating that:
“although the BOP’s regulations and Program Statement permit non-medical circumstances to be considered as a basis for compassionate release, the BOP routinely rejects such requests and did not approve a single nonmedical request during the 6-year period of our review.”U.S. DEP’T OF JUSTICE, The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Compassionate Release Program, at iI, (Apr. 2013)
The court stated that the BOP had the power to provide compassionate releases when sentences are “unusually long: but the Bureau of Prisons declined to seek relief in these situations. Congress responded by eliminating the BOP’s gatekeeping function.
The court also stated that in Cantu-Rivera, 1:05-CR-458-1, 2019 WL 2498923 at *2 (S.D. Tex. June 17, 2019), the court took the incarcerated person’s sentence into account. The court also noted the same in Brown 4:05-CR-00227-1, 2019 WL 4942051 at *3 (S.D. Iowa Oct. 8, 2019).
Finally, the court cited Ukrevich, 8:03-CR-37, 2019 WL 6037391, where the district court determined that a sentence modification based on the FIRST STEP Act’s changes to 924(c) sentencing was appropriate. While the government objected, indicating that Congress could have made 924(c) retroactive but chose not to, the court here said that
“It is not unreasonable for Congress to conclude that not all defendants convicted under § 924(c) should receive new sentences, even while expanding the power of the courts to relieve some defendants of those sentences on a case-by-case basis. As just noted, that is precisely the approach taken by the Urkevich court.”2:08-cr-00758 at page 12
The court determined that a combination of factors including Mr. Maumau’s age at the time of the sentence, the incredible length of the sentence imposed and the fact that if sentenced today he would not be subject to such a long term of imprisonment all established the extraordinary and compelling reason to reduce Mr. Maumau’s sentence.
Finally, the court determined that the 3553(a) factors had to be considered in order to determine what type of new sentence would be appropriate. Further, the court determined that although this section of the law is a “compassionate release,” that the court could reduce his sentence and keep him in prison the same way that Ukrevich’s case was resolved
(“If this Court reduces Urkevich’s sentences on Counts III and V to 60 months each, consecutive, he will not be eligible for immediate release. His sentence would total 368 months, and he would have served somewhat more than half that sentence. Nonetheless, the Court does not consider the Motion premature. . .. A reduction in the sentence at this juncture will help Urkevich and the Bureau of Prisons plan for his ultimate release[.]”).
The court set the case for a hearing in April where Maumau could present his arguments regarding what would be an appropriate sentence. Maumau was ordered to meet with probation for the preparation of a Presentence report “that addresses Mr. Maumau’s character, his danger to the public, his likelihood of rehabilitation or recidivism, the type of sentence he likely would have received had he been charged and convicted after the First Step Act had been passed, and any other relevant considerations.”
JEREMY’S NOTES: This is the second case that we have seen where a court has used the 3582 statute to give someone 924(c)relief. It’s important that the court noted several things: the court is able to grant relief on these cases, especially considering that the Sentencing Commission has not made any amendments to when 3582 relief would be appropriate after the Passage of the FIRST STEP Act.
The second thing is that Mr. Maumau’s extraordinary and compelling circumstance was based on the FIRST STEP ACT as well as his age and the fact that he would not have been subject to such a long term of imprisonment.
I encourage everyone to think about the extraordinary and compelling circumstances that might exist in your case and to reach out to us to discuss them with our office.