Case News, Client Update, Office News, & Extern Update
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. Through advocacy by the whole office, the district courts have 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 or, if a person qualifies for a sentence reduction, whether relief is warranted based on § 3553(a) factors. Together with members of the CJA panel, we have filed over 275 petitions under § 3582(c).
This month, another four motions were granted; their stories follow:
Judge Lasnik granted compassionate release to Mr. V, a 60 year-old client who had served over 8 years in prison of a 12-year sentence for his involvement in a drug conspiracy. Mr. V suffers from several conditions which would place him at a higher risk if he were to contract COVID-19 some of which, while readily identifiable, were undiagnosed and untreated. In addition to his risk from the virus, Judge Lasnik recognized that Mr. V. had indeed worked to improve himself throughout his incarceration and is no longer the same person that he was when he entered prison several years back. Mr. V has truly worked throughout his incarceration to rehabilitate himself and become the best member of the community possible. Both he and his family are very relieved that he is on his way home where he can work to reintegrate himself into society and reduce his risk of contracting the virus. Mr. V’s team, which included Seattle AFDs Andy Kennedy & Nancy Tenney and Seattle paralegal Charlotte Ponikvar, with the assistance and guidance of countless others in the office, is incredibly pleased to obtain this just and necessary result for Mr. V. Congratulations and good luck to Mr. V!
Judge Robart grants compassionate release for Mr. B!
Mr. B is a 73-year-old man with numerous significant medical issues, including diabetes, obesity, asthma, COPD and heart disease. His medical issues were such that he was serving his sentence at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Rochester, Minnesota. Despite being at a medical facility, the risk of contracting COVID-19 was high, particularly once inmates and staff began testing positive. Indeed, while his compassionate release motion was pending, Mr. B contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized for 5 days before returning to the FMC. Now he will soon be traveling back to Washington where he will be able to complete his recovery out of custody. He is excited to be in a situation where he can safely social distance and begin his reentry into society. Mr. Bock was represented by Seattle AFD Nancy Tenney, with assistance by Seattle paralegal Emily Ziel.
Judge Pechman Grants Compassionate Release to Mr. J!
A 56-year-old client who served almost 10 years in prison for sexual abuse, Mr. J and his team at FPD, including Seattle AFD Greg Murphy, Legal Intern Channing Reeves, Seattle Paralegals Emily Ziel and Charlotte Ponikvar, and countless others, successfully showed that Mr. J’s medical vulnerabilities and rehabilitation merited an order of compassionate release. Mr. J’s records in prison showed exemplary conduct and a commitment to turning his life around.
Congratulations to Mr. J for this new opportunity!
On October 5th, 2020 Judge Lasnik granted compassionate release for my client Mozelle Frazier-Dubois. Ms. Dubois was convicted of Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine and Heroin and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime. On May 17th, 2016 Ms Frazier-Dubois was sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 120 months for these crimes. Our office was appointed to represent Ms. Frazier-Dubois to evaluate a potential compassionate release petition. After doing a records review, we believed a petition could be successful. Ms. Frazier-Dubois is 47 years old, suffers from type 2 Diabetes, is obese with a BMI of 44.8, hypertension and sleep apnea. After filing our motion for early compassionate release, the Government conceded that both the exhaustion prong and that extraordinary and compelling reasons had been demonstrated. However, the government argued that 3353(a) factors did not support early release. Thankfully, Judge Lasnik rejected that argument, citing Ms. Frazier-Dubois’ completion of a variety of programming including RDAP and her lack of disciplinary history. The Court ordered Ms. Frazier-Dubois early release after a 14-day quarantine period at the prison. Ms. Frazier-Dubois and her family are thrilled. In our briefing, we had a wide variety of briefs written by Federal Defenders around the country that were incredibly helpful. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this area of law. This result would not have been possible without you. Congrats to Ms. Frazier-Dubois and CJA Panel attorney Brent Hart!
Seattle AFD Corey Endo secured a probationary sentence for her client!
Judge Lasnik sentenced a client convicted of a fraud offense to three years of probation, allowing her to stay home with her young daughter. The loss amount in this case was $200 million and the guidelines called for a prison sentence of many years. Judge Lasnik recognized the enormous strides our client had made over the last seven years, when her involvement in the fraud ended, and found that the goals of sentencing could be met without custody. Our client and her family are very grateful.
In 2015, we were able to convince the Washington Department of Corrections that a client’s two sentences should be served concurrently, rather than consecutively. The state then tried to have the client civilly committed. Last week, the tremendous advocacy of his civil commitment lawyers paid off and our former client was released. Despite the long road to freedom, our former client remains thankful for the role of our office and the ongoing support we have given him.
This is What Reentry Looks Like:
For SB, a 60-month federal prison sentence also meant being barred from the reservation where he had lived his entire adult life. It meant losing the daily support of his family that had always lived nearby, checked in with him regularly, and made sure he had what he needed. It also meant losing his Supplemental Security Income that he depended on to pay for his basic living expenses, provide care for his complicated medical needs and supply numerous prescription medications. SB has both physical and intellectual disabilities and has never lived completely independently. Despite his disabilities, SB made his term in prison a positive experience by making many friends, working on his GED, and strengthening his tribal connections with spiritual practices and community. Upon release, he was once again separated from this community that supported him on a daily basis. When he contracted COVID-19 in April 2020, SB faced complete isolation in a Department of Health quarantine facility, along with overwhelming uncertainty about how his health would suffer and where he would go next. His defense team had maintained nearly daily contact with SB and had helped him apply for the Community Protection Program (CPP), a state program for disabled sex offenders managed by the Developmental Disabilities Administration and Long Term Care. SB had been on the CPP waiting list for a year and his application was further complicated by the fact that he had been unsuccessful in reestablishing other public entitlements that he was eligible to receive, such as SSI and Medicaid. These government agencies had denied his application and SB missed important deadlines to appeal these decisions. Navigating the intricacies of public benefits law was well beyond SB’s abilities and his applications remained in limbo within these bureaucracies. His defense team recognized that SB was in danger of becoming homeless if they didn’t step in to provide daily advocacy on his behalf. Seattle AFD Vanessa Pai-Thompson, Seattle Investigator Chuck Formosa, and Chief Paralegal Patricia Stordeur provided diligent advocacy for six months. Beyond legal advocacy, we also helped provide some temporary housing, transportation to all of his appointments and a great deal of emotional support. SB moved into his own apartment with the CPP on October 6, 2020. He now has 24-hour case management and support, payee services to help him manage his finances, and additional services to provide him with a well-rounded and comfortable life. Key to our success was leaning heavily on our community partners, the Benefits Law Center and Solid Ground. These wonderful organizations that battle poverty every day coached us through the labyrinth of public benefits law and state programs. SB is a valued member of the Federal Public Defender family and we are so pleased he has finally found his way home.
The Federal Public Defender reaches out to clients about getting their EIP Stimulus Checks from the IRS
The IRS was ordered to stop withholding EIP stimulus checks to incarcerated individuals in a decision issued on September 24, 2020 by a U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of California. The decision in a class action lawsuit impacts over 80,000 incarcerated people. The Federal Public Defender’s Office immediately mobilized an effort to assist our clients in applying for EIP checks. We mailed over 300 letters with instructions and IRS forms to incarcerated or recently released clients in a coordinated effort with the United States Probation Office. A stimulus check of up to $1,200 could make all the difference to a person reentering society after completing a prison sentence during these difficult days, when housing programs and social services are already stretched thin due to COVID-19. These funds will also make it possible for some of our pretrial clients to be released to the community on an appearance bond and avoid the risk of COVID-19 in the detention center where social distancing is close to impossible. This effort was coordinated by Seattle AFD Jennifer Wellman, Social Worker Daniel Potter-Engelskirger, and Chief Paralegal Patricia Stordeur with the invaluable assistance of our dedicated Paralegals and Operations staff members: Alma Coria, Rolando Costilla, Ana Liza Garcia, Rebeca Hernandez, Barbara Hughes, Charlotte Ponikvar, Suzie Strait, Amy Strickling, Julie Valencia and Christina Young-Robinson. Every member of our office responds to the call when there is an opportunity to do more for our clients.
We received this message of appreciation from a client at FCI Sheridan upon receiving this information from our office:
“I am the head librarian here and we have been passing out the forms like beers. Thank you for calling my attention to it and helping with the forms.”
CJA Resource Counsel Jenn Kaplan co-organized “Grit: A Workshop to Energize, Elevate, and Educate Women in Public Defense” with the Defender Services Office Training Division. The two-week national program addressed a variety of topics experienced by women including the journey to criminal defense work, developing one’s professional identity, identifying leadership goals, navigating client relationships, ethical quandaries, challenges, sexual harassment, vicarious trauma, work-life balance, self-care practices and more. AFD Vanessa Pai-Thompson spoke on a panel about leadership in federal defense at the intersection of race and gender. Jenn, Vanessa, and Seattle AFDs Corey Endo and Nancy Tenney and CJA appellate lawyer Cynthia Jones served as facilitators for the event, helping participants navigate these issues in small, supportive group settings.
Legal Extern Update:
Two of our Summer 2020 Legal Externs have received internships with county public defender agencies!
Channing Reeves was offered an internship at King County Department of Public Defense for this upcoming summer.
Maya Itah was offered an internship at Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel.
Congrats to these two and best wishes as you continue your career in criminal defense work!