Sentencing Commission’s Rule Broadening Compassionate Release Soon to Go in Effect

Compassionate Release

Compassionate release grants relief to inmates whose continued incarceration poses little public safety benefit and for whom extraordinary and compelling circumstances encourage release. Read on to learn more about compassionate release and whether you or a loved one may be eligible for early release.

History of Compassionate Release

Before the First Step Act was passed in 2018, only the warden of a federal prison had the authority to grant compassionate release. The U.S. Sentencing Commission had issued guidelines for wardens that provided that compassionate release was appropriate for inmates in certain circumstances, including those who:

  • Are suffering from a terminal illness
  • Have a serious physical or mental illness
  • Have a spouse or child with a serious physical or mental illness
  • Have an age-related mental or physical deterioration

Some people believed this provision gave the Federal Bureau of Prisons a way to avoid expensive end-of-life care for inmates.

With the passage of the First Step Act, inmates could “appeal” a warden’s denial of a compassionate release request by filing a request in the federal district court where they were convicted. During the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of such petitions were filed and, in many parts of the country, were commonly granted.

For compassionate release during COVID-19, federal judges in conservative jurisdictions like Texas generally took a dubious view of claims that COVID-19 was a virtual death sentence for many inmates. In other jurisdictions, federal judges released many inmates to avoid the threat of COVID-19 fatalities.

New Guidance

As a result of the litigation that arose during the pandemic, the Sentencing Commission reconsidered the question of what constitutes “extraordinary and compelling” reasons justifying compassionate release. In addition to the traditional medical reasons, wardens and courts, effective November 1, 2023, are authorized to grant release for the following reasons:

  • For inmates who have received “unusually long sentences,” have already served at least ten years of their sentence, and a change in the law has occurred that likely would have resulted in a shorter original sentence
  • For inmates who were the victims of sexual assault by Bureau of Prisons officers when the assailant has admitted to or been adjudicated guilty of the sexual assault in a civil, administrative, or criminal case
  • For inmates whose minor or disabled child’s primary caregiver has died or become incapacitated
  • In situations where courts would have the discretion and guidance to grant reductions in sentences because they are similarly severe as those listed above

This last ground potentially opens the door for compassionate release and will likely result in many compassionate release claims being filed and pursued in federal district court. However, bear in mind in conservative federal districts such as those in Texas, most federal judges are likely only going to grant compassionate release under the most compelling of circumstances.

Contact Broden & Mickelsen for a Free Case Review

If you think you or a loved one has a strong case for compassionate release, contact the lawyers at Broden & Mickelsen. We are board-certified specialists in criminal law and criminal appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Together with our 60 years of combined criminal defense experience, we have the unique knowledge and experience necessary to craft a compelling argument for compassionate release. Contact us today for a free and confidential legal consultation.