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Articles by James Lockhart

What’s ‘Sufficient’ Rehabilitation for Compassionate Release?

by James A. Lockhart and Luke E. Sommer

In the relatively short history of compassionate release motions filed by prisoners, courts have consistently found that rehabilitation is an important element in determining whether or not relief is appropriate. See United States v. Johnson, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129168 (D.D.C. 2022). And where there is no supporting evidence of rehabilitation in the record, courts have denied petitioners’ requests on the grounds that they pose continuing threats to the public and a risk of recidivation. United States v. Mejia, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 180206 (D. Haw. 2020). This makes some sense – having cancer or some serious medical condition that threatens your life is an extraordinary circumstance, but it does not compel a court to release a person whose release plan includes (1) checking in with probation, (2) buying a cellphone, and (3) robbing a bank.

The idea of putting someone back on the street who is likely to cause further harm is not something District Courts have embraced for what seem like obvious reasons. That said, what exactly is rehabilitation? Rehabilitation can, at a certain point, be grounds for compassionate release in and of itself. But at the opposite ...

Beyond Rehabilitation: Personal Achievement and Selfless Service as Grounds for Federal Compassionate Release

by Luke E. Sommer and James A. Lockhart

Prior to the passage of the First Step Actof 2018, federal prisoners had to rely on the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“Director”) to file motions for compassionate release on their behalf. Weirdly enough, that rarely happened. As a result, Congress took action and altered Title 18, U.S.C., § 3582(c)(1)(A) to allow prisoners to file their own motion. The floodgates opened, and thousands filed with a significant portion receiving relief. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission Compassionate Release Data Report, Fiscal Years 2020 to 2022, out of 25,416 applications, 4,194 prisoners have received a sentence reduction or release through this statute.

This gold rush was not without its problems. The statute authorizing U.S. District Courts to disturb the finality of federal sentences requires that “extraordinary and compelling” grounds exist in order to justify relief and points to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines for guidance in determining what extraordinary and compelling actually means. While this seems like a non-issue, the reality is a little more complicated.

The Guideline at issue – § 1B1.13 – hadn’t been updated since compassionate release was first conceived decades prior and, as a result, was hopelessly out ...

 

 

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