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Federal Appeals Court Expands Number of Inmates Eligible for Compassionate Release and Sentence Reductions

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled today that district courts have broad discretion to determine what circumstances constitute “extraordinary and compelling circumstances” that warrant an inmate’s release from prison or sentence reduction.

The First Step Act of 2018 amended 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), the statute allowing courts to reduce an inmate’s sentence or grant them “compassionate release” if there are “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting the release or reduction. The new law allows inmates to file motions for sentence reductions directly with the court. Before 2019, only the BOP could file a motion for an inmate’s release or sentence reduction, and they almost never did.

Prior to the First Step Act, courts were bound by the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s definitions of “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” which was limited to four narrow categories based on terminal illnesses, advanced age or debilitated medical condition, the need to serve as a child or spouse’s caregiver, or a “catch-all” provision that lets the BOP director determine what constitutes extraordinary and compelling reasons.

Since the U.S. Sentencing Commission has not updated its policy statements or these categories since the First Step was passed, however, the Second Circuit held that courts now have broad discretion to determinate what constitutes “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting an inmate’s release. The Court reasoned that the First Step Act rendered several of the policy statements outdated or no longer applicable, such as the statement stating that only the BOP can bring motions under 3582(c)(1)(A), and shifted discretion from the BOP to the courts.

The Second Circuit is the first circuit court to address this issue and take this position, which is the same position as a majority of district courts. I adopted by other courts, the ruling means that inmates can request compassionate release based on a much broader set of circumstances than before, such as the need to be caregiver for a family member who is not a spouse or child (such as an elderly or sick parent), the excessiveness of a sentence based on harsh sentencing laws that have been repealed, or other reasons.

If you have a loved one in prison, contact our experienced compassionate release attorneys and see what options they have to file a motion for compassionate release. We have helped several inmates across the country get an early release from prison and are ready to fight for you and your loved one.