Case News & DREAM News!
The passage of the First Step Act in December 2018 expanded compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1), allowing our clients to file compassionate release motions to reduce sentences based on “extraordinary and compelling reasons” directly with their sentencing courts. This past month, with continued advocacy by the whole office, the district court has joined the majority of courts across the nation that recognize the COVID-19 pandemic should inform the requisite analysis – either in terms of whether extraordinary and compelling reasons exist because of the heightened risk to the most vulnerable federal prisoners to COVID-19 (the elderly and chronically ill) or, if the person qualifies, whether relief is warranted based on the § 3553(a) factors. This past month, three clients were granted relief with the COVID-19 pandemic in mind.
Seattle AFD Dennis Carroll stood on the shoulders of the Seattle AFD Vicki Lai and Tacoma Research & Writing Specialist, Alan Zarky, with assistance from Seattle paralegals Alma Coria and Charlotte Ponikvar, and secured compassionate release for a client who was serving the final months of a nearly 20-year sentence for drug offenses. The Honorable Robert S. Lasnik found that the client’s health conditions place him at heightened risk for serious complications if he contracts COVID-19 and reduced his sentence to time-served. U.S. v. Van Cleave, 2:03-cr-00247-RSL, 04-cr-00125-RSL (W.D. WA, 5/29/20). Congrats to Dennis and the whole team!
Tacoma First Assistant AFD Miriam Schwartz secured the release of her client and tells the following: My client is the face of this country’s “mass incarceration, a 64-year old non-violent drug offender, a Navy vet, with kidney failure and high blood pressure, at high risk for a potentially bad outcome from COVID-19. Serving a 5-year mandatory sentence for a drug offense in a low security camp, he should have been an early candidate for release to home confinement when COVID-19, hit BOP. Instead, BOP lost, or at least never processed, his release request, and he remained incarcerated as COVID -19 overwhelmed the Lompoc prison complex and killed 2 of his friends there. Fortunately, his release request to the prison warden was sufficiently documented through contemporaneous emails with me, and we were eventually able to convince the sentencing judge that he had in fact “exhausted” his “administrative remedies”, which the courts in this district have been requiring before they will consider a motion for compassionate release. It took a village to accomplish this release: First there was Tacoma Research & Writing Specialist, Alan Zarky’s diligent legal work, building on the tireless work of other defenders in our office and across the country who are fighting this same battle every day. There was Tacoma Paralegal Amy Strickling’s creative research on his “risk factors”, Seattle Investigator, Jen Davis’ outreach to the medical community, where we received an expert medical opinion, as well as our client’s daughter who offered her home for the remainder of his sentence, and the United States Pretrial Office, who approved her residence and offered their helpful report to the Court. Client is now home with his daughter, and incredibly grateful to us. Given the horror stories we have heard from BOP, we may well have saved his life. Congrats to Miriam and the defense team!
Our client was granted compassionate release by the Honorable John C. Coughenour. The Federal Defender’s office identified this client as medically vulnerable when the outbreak had just begun. Seattle AFDs Jennifer Wellman & Vicki Lai, along with Tacoma Research & Writing Specialist Alan Zarky ably assisted each other in preparing an emergency motion to get the client released. As they prepared the motion, Seattle Paralegal Donna Maxwell outlined the client’s medical history for the past three years to chronicle to the Court how vulnerable the client was. This document was a persuasive exhibit that the Court relied on in releasing client. As this was going on, Seattle Investigator Jennifer Davis, interviewed the client. The interview described troubling circumstances at FCC-Lompoc. Jennifer Davis’s interview was critical in getting the client released.
The District Court denied client’s first request for release. But the defense team and the client were undeterred. We returned to the court a second time imploring the Court to immediately release the client because conditions had worsened at FCC-Lompoc. The BOP had ignored the Court’s request to consider the client’s request for release, and the client’s life was at risk. Seattle Paralegal Charlotte Ponikvar worked hard on getting the two petitions and all the exhibits prepared and filed with the Court. The Court released the client without waiting for the government to reply. Client took a bus from FCC-Lompoc to Seattle. He had endured a lot but was filled with a new sense of hope. A sense of hope fueled by the efforts of his defense team that advocated on his behalf. Congrats to the team for their hard work!
DREAM saw another participant graduate in May. This graduate had struggled with prescription pain pills since high school and her addiction had taken control of many aspects of her life. She and her husband were arrested in December 2019 and both were charged with drug trafficking. Our graduate began DREAM in May 2019 and worked hard to not only meet the expectations of the program, but to exceed them. When support groups stopped in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, this participant took it on to lead remote groups and to encourage other participants to join in the meetings. She is hoping to pursue a career as a treatment provider. We wish her all the best in the future.