COVID-19 has impacted the federal prison system just as much, if not more, as it has all other industries. The Bureau of Prisons has reported tens of thousands of COVID-19 infections and inmate deaths. Even in non-covid times, compassionate release remains an avenue for individuals to leave federal prison early and return to their families. Within the First Step Act of 2018 is an overlooked means for lowering prison terms under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) for virtually any inmate who can present a court with an “extraordinary and compelling reason” for sentencing relief, even if those reasons have nothing to do with age and/or medical condition.
Following the passage of the Act, defense counsel may file compassionate release motions, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582, on behalf of individuals after the earlier of the following two events: (1) rejection by the warden of the facility in which a defendant is being held of a request for compassionate release – that is, exhaustion of a defendant’s “administrative remedies”; or (2) the lapse of 30 days from the receipt of that request by the warden.
To qualify for compassionate release, an individual who has satisfied the above-described “exhaustion” requirement must then meet three primary conditions:
Extraordinary and compelling reasons: the Sentencing Commission’s policy statement (Section 1B1.13) outlines four categories of qualifying “reasons” — serious medical condition, age (inmates over 65 with deteriorating health and who have served over 75% or 10 years of their sentence), family circumstances, or “other reasons” to be determined.
Notably, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), federal judges have the power to order sentence reductions and, in doing so, are authorized to reduce prison terms on the full array of grounds reasonably encompassed by the phrase “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances. Simply stated, compassionate release is now available to any defendant whose conditions have changed such that a fair-minded person could conclude that “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for a sentence reduction exist.
Individuals do not pose a danger to others as based on the factors typically viewed through the lens of 18 U.S.C. 3142(g): weight of the evidence, history and characteristics of the person, nature and seriousness of the danger to any person or the community that would be posed by the person’s release, and whether drugs or guns were involved in the alleged offense.
18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors: Nature and circumstances of the offense, need for the sentence to reflect offense seriousness and just punishment, deterrence, need to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant, and ability to provide defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment.
Enacted in 2018, the Fair Step Act represents unprecedented progressive, bi-partisan legislation. On a practical level, the Act put numerous provisions in place to facilitate an earlier release for qualifying federal inmates:
Made the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive: Importantly, the First Step Act clarified some confusion stemming from the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act. The 2010 FSA did away with disparities between sentences for crack and power cocaine, which for decades was viewed by advocates and judges as unfairly applicable. The 2018 Act made clear that the 2010 provision should be applied retroactively, thereby favorably impacting individuals who had been sentenced with such disparities even decades ago.
Safety Valve Eligibility: The federal safety valve, codified by 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f), allows a Court to bypass certain mandatory minimum sentences if that person’s offense did not include a dangerous weapon or violence, did not include death or serious injury, the individual was not a leader, manager, or supervisor of the offense, and the person has now provided truthful information to the government. The fifth factor, prior to the First Step Act, required that the individual have no more than one criminal history point, but the Act has now increased that number to four criminal history points.
Good Time and Merit Credits: Retroactively increased the amount of “good time” credit to which inmates are eligible from 47 to 54 days per year, a change that has resulted in the release of more than 3,000 men and women from federal prison.
Limiting Prior Criminal History Impact: The Act has lowered the “851” enhancement for individuals with prior drug convictions. Hence, prior to the Act’s passage, certain convictions could be enhanced and include a life imprisonment term, but the Act has now lowered this enhancement significantly.
Motions and applications pursuant to compassionate release and the first step act are built on strong, concise, and convincing legal writing and advocacy. The tactics and strategy employed by defense counsel at this stage must be well-thought out and executed.
If you are serving federal prison time but potentially qualify for an earlier release, it is imperative that you hire competent, intelligent counsel. Doing so could lessen your potential sentence dramatically and send you home earlier. We at Jason Goldman Law can help. To know more contact us today!