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First Circuit: Denial of Compassionate Release was Justified: Saccoccia, 20-2045

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Saccoccia was sentenced to 660 years (!) for “a panoply of criminal offenses connected to his role in laundering more than $136,000,000 for a Colombian drug cartel.”  The district court sentenced him to the statutory maximum on his charges and then ran them consecutively.  Saccoccia filed a compassionate release motion in May of 2020.  He pointed to his chronic hypertension, lipidemia and other health concerns that placed him at heightened risk for complications stemming from COVID-19.  He also indicated that he had an elevated prostate-specific antigen level (which is an indicum of prostate cancer).  He also stated that his prison term constituted an extraordinary and compelling reason for his release. 

The district court judge denied Saccoccia’s motion, stating that “Saccoccia did not demonstrate that his hypertension and hyperlipidemia put him at increased risk for severe complications from COVID-19 so as to warrant compassionate release.”    Further the court indicated that even if the length of a sentence was a potentially cognizable reason for compassionate release, the circumstances here did not warrant such relief.  The court then determined that the 3553(a) sentencing factors did not work in favor of Saccoccia’s release. 

Medical Issues

The court noted that while Saccoccia indicated that he had hypertension and hyper lipidemia, the court also noted that the CDC information that the court had at the time indicated that neither of those conditions were serious and that they did not comprise a unique risk for severe complications arising from COVID-19.  For example, Saccoccia did not suffer from pulmonary hypertension.  Even though the court did have those considerations, the court did not  err in determining that those conidiations did not establish vulnerability for Saccoccia  here. 

Regarding the high PSA level, the court determined that issue was “not developed,” potentially meaning that the court took pains to leave the door open in case the issue had to be revisited.  The court also noted that there may be other reasons why his PSA levels would be increased including another chronic condition of his.  The record also indicates that the BOP has been sufficiently monitoring his condition and providing adequate medical care. 

Length of sentence:

The First Circuit, who indicated that they have not considered the question of whether USSG 1B1.13 is applicable to current compassionate release cases.  They also decided not to address that here, assuming that it does not for argument’s sake (the same as the majority of appellate courts).   The court noted that there was much more to consider on this question than whether the court could grant relief here:

“The assumption that length of sentence, in the abstract, may be considered as an extraordinary and compelling reason for compassionate release is merely a starting point, not an end-point. That assumed fact serves as a gateway for a case-specific evaluation of the defendant’s situation… Here, the district court assumed that it had the authority to consider the sheer length of Saccoccia’s sentence as an extraordinary and compelling reason for Saccoccia’s compassionate release... It nonetheless concluded that the length of Saccoccia’s sentence, even when viewed in conjunction with a variety of other considerations cited by Saccoccia, did not warrant his compassionate release.” 

While Saccoccia indicated that his sentence was unfathomable, the court noted that the context of the situation was different.  The court noted that his guideline range was life.  The district court noted that his guideline range was life and noted that he had a set of low statutory maximums and the court gave him a sentence of life in prison by running those cases concurrently.  Given the same, the denial of compassionate release in the 3553(a) factors also was appropriate given that the court indicated that the denial would “send the wrong message to society.” 

The First Circuit Affirmed the Ruling of the District of Rhode Island.  20-2045

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