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Fourth Circuit Reverses Compassionate Release Denial

The Fourth Circuit reversed the denial of a compassionate release after the district court failed to consider the applicant’s obesity.

The Fourth Circuit reversed the denial of a compassionate release after the district court failed to consider the applicant’s obesity.  

Brown's Compassionate Release

Brown filed for a compassionate release motion under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A).  He indicated that his medical conditions, including “severe sleep apnea, narcolepsy, high blood pressure, esophageal reflux disorder, being pre-diabetic, a history of childhood bronchitis, a family history of various chronic ailments (including asthma and heart disease) and being obese rendered him particularly vulnerable to serious illness or complications, should he contract COVID-19.

Brown also argued that his post-sentencing rehabilitation, including the successful completion of programming and good conduct while incarcerated, established that release was appropriate.  The First Step Act allowed for a sentence reduction responsive to the enacted legislative change relevant to ‘stacking' sentences for [his multiple gun counts].

Compassionate Release Denial

The district court indicated that Brown’s medical conditions did not reach the level of extraordinary and compelling reasons.  The court explained most of Brown’s health conditions.  Yet, they did not mention Brown’s obesity, nor did the court consider the statutory change in sentencing for multiple firearms convictions after the FIRST STEP Act.  

Compassionate Release Remanded

The Court indicated that their standard of review here was “Abuse of Discretion.”  This means “when it acts arbitrarily or irrationally, fails to consider judicially recognized factors constraining its exercise of discretion, relies on erroneous factual or legal premises, or commits an error of law.”

Regarding the failure to consider obesity and the change of law, the court noted:  “while there is no ‘categorical ... requirement’ that a court explicitly address each of the movant’s arguments on the record, the court also errs if, in light of the particular circumstances of the case, its explanation is ‘[in]adequate to allow for meaningful appellate review.’” 

The court also noted when considering extraordinary and compelling circumstances, the court was  “‘empowered ... to consider any extraordinary and compelling reason for release that a defendant might raise’ in deciding whether to grant a defendant-filed motion.”

The court noted the district court did not explicitly identify Brown’s alleged obesity in determining if pre existing medical conditions considered within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic could meet the “extraordinary and compelling standard.”  The district court did not have the benefit of United States vs. McCoy decision at this point.  

In light of all the above, the Fourth Circuit determined that the case should be remanded back to the district court.  No. 20-7095

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