McCoy: The 4th Circuit Holds that Inmates Can Seek 3582 Compassionate Release Relief

Rule 35 Cooperation

McCoy: What happened in Court and What Happens Now

Ten days ago, the 4th circuit decided McCoy/Bryant, a case that I referred to a few months ago.  I am very late on this but I wanted to go over it and let you know what the court said and what happens now. 

No. 20-6821, No. 20-6869, No. 20-6875, No. 20-6877, 2020 WL 7050097

McCoy, Bryant and their Procedural History

McCoy was charged with involvement in a strong of 12 robberies and pled guilty to 2 counts of Hobbs Act Robbery and 2 counts of the use of firearms under 18 USC 924(c).  He received 32 years for the gun charges, 7 years for the first 924c charge and 25 years for the second.  He was sentenced to 37 months for the robberies. 

McCoy filed for 3582 relief in 2020.  In granting his motion, the courts determined that when the FIRST STEP Act (that contained the 3582 relief) was enacted, “Congress intended to remove the BOP from this gatekeeping role” and that would be frustrated if USSG 1B1.13 application note D were allowed to mandate that the BOP approve McCoy’s 3582 motion.  The court granted his reduction to time served. 

Bryant, Decator and Scott participated in one attempted and two completed bank robberies.  Each was charged with 3 924(c) convictions.  At that time such charges carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 45 years.  “The district court expressed its concern about the severity of the sentences produced by the stacked  § 924(c) charges but explained that it had no discretion in the matter.”  They all sought compassionate release and their sentenced were reduced to time served.  All of the defendants have been released on supervision and subject to additional conditions.  The government appealed these decisions.   

The court held that “[w]hat § 3582(c)(1)(A) requires is that sentence reductions be consistent with “applicable policy statements.” And here, that consistency requirement simply is not implicated, for the threshold reason that there currently exists no “applicable policy statement[ ].”  The court noted that they joined the Second Circuit’s holding in Zullo, the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Jones and the Second Circuit’s decision in Gunn. 

The court went on to say that “A sentence reduction brought about by motion of a defendant, rather than the BOP, is not a reduction “under this policy statement.”…By its plain terms, in short,  § 1B1.13 does not apply to defendant-filed motions under  § 3582(c)(1)(A).”…”There is as of now no ‘applicable’ policy statement governing compassionate-release motions filed by defendants under the recently amended  § 3582(c)(1)(A), and as a result, district courts are “empowered … to consider any extraordinary and compelling reason for release that a defendant might raise.”

The Government also argued that the district courts erred in “treating as “extraordinary and compelling reasons” the length of the defendants’ sentences and the fact that those sentences would be dramatically shorter today, given the First Step Act’s elimination of sentence-stacking under § 924(c).” 

The court disagreed again.  “The district courts here – like other district courts – appropriately considered two distinct features of the defendants’  § 924(c) sentences in applying the “extraordinary and compelling reasons” standard. First is the sheer and unusual length of the sentences…the district court also considered the “gross disparity” between those sentences and the sentences Congress now believes to be an appropriate penalty for the defendants’ conduct.”  The Fourth Circuit also noted that the district courts relied not only on the 924(c) charges but full consideration of their individual circumstances. The record showed that each of these individuals had spent half of their lives in prison and in some situations they had engaged in rehabilitation. 

Similarly, the court dispensed with the government’s argument that retroactive 924c relief via 3582 was an impermissible use of the court’s power.  “As multiple district courts have explained, there is a significant difference between automatic vacatur and resentencing of an entire class of sentences – with its ‘avalanche of applications and inevitable resentencings,'”  Further, the Second Circuit stated that courts should be empowered to ““relieve some defendants of those sentences on a case-by-case basis.”

The 4th Circuit Affirmed the Decisions of the Lower Courts.  No. 20-6821, No. 20-6869, No. 20-6875, No. 20-6877

What now? 

As we stated last week in our Blog about Gunn and Jones, the ruling here could apply to “stacked 924(c) convictions, no longer applicable mandatory minimums for drug crimes, Section 851 enhancements that do not count, or any other host of reasons for seeking a reduction.”  Specifically if you’ve sought 3582 relief and the court denied you because they stated that only the BOP could bring a motion for compassionate release forward under 1B1.13 application note 1D, that can now be brought up in either.  If your case is in the 4th Circuit and was on hold or stay pending this decision then hopefully it is decided on soon. 

If you were denied compassionate release relief because of the 3553(a) factors or because of both this AND 3553(a) then this doesn’t really help you unfortunately. 

I don’t know what the government is going to do with any of these.  One of my 3582 cases is on a stay pending the results of MauMau’s appeal. 

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