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, five clients from our office and CJA were granted relief with the COVID-19 pandemic in mind. Three of the cases are written about below.
CJA attorney, Neil Fox writes, My former client, Lamont Reynolds, was caught up in the Cheatham/Morgan drug case and ended up in FCI Lompoc serving a five-year sentence. Despite the Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) assurances that it had a plan to protect people from COVID-19, in April when the disease began sweeping through the prison, I lost communication with him and even though I did not have his BOP medical records and had only basic knowledge of some of his medical issues, I made a request for compassionate release (CR) on his behalf to BOP. Then, when it was clear that BOP had lost control, close to 1000 people at FCI Lompoc were infected (ultimately including Mr. Reynolds), people began dying and Mr. Reynolds was essentially warehoused in a large dorm under dire conditions, I filed a CR motion before Judge Jones and noted it up for hearing before the 30-day period expired. I asked the court to order the Government to provide information about what true conditions at the prison were and to order BOP to provide counsel with both access to his client and medical information.
The Government responded and provided Mr. Reynolds’ BOP medical records. After having an independent medical doctor review the records, it was apparent that BOP was not treating Mr. Reynolds for some very serious chronic medical conditions, conditions that increased his risk level for long-term complications due to the positive test result and high risk if one could become re-infected with COVID-19. Judge Jones did not issue an immediate ruling and after a few weeks ordered an update on Mr. Reynolds’ medical condition. From BOP’s perspective, Mr. Reynolds had “recovered” from COVID-19, although he still suffered from symptoms, BOP was still ignoring many of his chronic medical conditions and he was still living in dire circumstances.
Judge Jones denied the CR motion on June 17th. I filed for reconsideration, and the Government’s response conceded that he had certain medical conditions that still made him high risk and eligible for CR, even if he technically “recovered.” In the meantime, there were some good opinions from other districts granting CR for people who had survived a positive test but where judges found the conditions of confinement and mental stress so severe that release was justified.
On July 23rd – over three months after I requested CR to BOP – Judge Jones granted reconsideration: “The Court appreciates that the BOP may currently be overwhelmed with the current extraordinary demands of the pandemic, but this is no reason to punish Mr. Reynolds to health conditions that exceed the notions of punishment considered at the time of his sentencing.”
Mr. Reynolds was picked up at Lompoc the next day by his sister and is now with his family near Tacoma. Congrats to Mr. Reynolds and Neil!
Judge Zilly granted compassionate release to a 75-year old client who was three years into a nine-year prison sentence for an offense that carried a mandatory minimum five-year sentence. Following his conviction for receipt of child pornography, the client had been incarcerated at Terminal Island.
While there, he contracted COVID-19. Although the client had recovered from the infection, Judge Zilly found that the sentence was nonetheless a potential death sentence given his age, poor health, and incarceration at Terminal Island. Because such a risk to the client’s life was not warranted, Judge Zilly granted the motion. Congrats to the client and to the FPD defense team!
Mr. D, a 61-year-old veteran suffering from obesity, probable COPD, diabetes, and hypertension, was granted compassionate release from Terminal Island which, at that time, was a hotbed of virus. He was not receiving his meds for his high blood pressure and was in constant pain from sciatica. Although he had served less than a year on a 4-year sentence for child porn (with a prior for C/P), the court released him to home confinement first to the Residential Reentry Center (RRC), and then to an apartment which we located with Probation’s help. He sincerely believed he was going to die in prison, and is incredibly grateful for our hard work for his release. Our wonderful defense team included Tacoma First Assistant Miriam Schwartz, Tacoma Paralegals Carolynn Cohn and Amy Strickling, Tacoma Research & Writing Specialist Alan Zarky, Seattle AFDs Jennifer Wellman and Vicki Lai, and numerous others! Congrats to Mr. D and his defense team for this victory!
Seattle AFD Sara Brin secured Pre-Trial Release for her client who was arrested and charged in conjunction with the Seattle Black Lives Matter Protests.
Our client was first arrested and charged in the State, but after a competency order was entered in King County, the State dismissed the charges and the US Attorney’s Office brought Mr. P’s case federal. Our client has significant mental health issues that were untreated at the time of his arrest and an incredibly supportive military family who are in South Carolina. Our defense team worked quickly to put together a stable and comprehensive release plan for Mr. P to be back with his family in South Carolina, so that he could receive the support and care that he needed.
Judge Peterson ordered his release to his mother and step father, who are acting as his third party custodians. Mr. P’s mother had flown to Seattle to be present so that if the client was released, she could travel back home with him. Client and mom are now home together in South Carolina! Thanks to the hard work of Seattle AFDs Sara Brin and Dennis Carroll, Seattle Paralegals Donna Maxwell and Suzie Strait, Social Worker Daniel Potter-Engelskirger, and Tacoma Investigator Stacey Brownstein. Mr. P and family were effusively grateful!
The office won a 2254 habeas case, saving the client more than five years off of a state sentence based on a theory that the client had been inadequately represented by the attorney who represented him during the original state trial. Client stated that he was so happy he was shaking, said he would never forget how we helped him, and wanted to thank the entire team for his freedom. So many people in the office contributed to this victory, but a special “shout out” goes to Tacoma Paralegal Carolynn Cohn, Tacoma Investigator Mike Stortini, and Tacoma Research and Writing Specialist Alan Zarky, all of whom worked tirelessly to achieve this result.
A record setting four clients graduated from DREAM in July. Each was charged with a drug trafficking offense. Three of the four graduates started at the same time and graduated in one year, the shortest time possible in the DREAM program. The fourth graduate took a bit longer, but by the end demonstrated not just her commitment to sobriety but also inspiring perseverance.
Had these individuals gone to prison with a guideline-range sentence, it would have cost tax payers more than a million dollars to incarcerate them. Instead, the participants were able to work, go to school, raise their children, and care for their parents and grandparents. One graduate worked as an in-home care provider for his grandfather until his grandfather’s death. Another participant worked at a non-profit, achieving a leadership role and working to institute a Juneteenth holiday at the organization. Their communities are stronger and healthier with them in it, and we in DREAM will miss them. Congrats to these four, what dedication and perseverance!