Case, Client, Community, & Staff 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. 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 240 petitions under § 3582(c).
This month, another two motions were granted; one of the cases is detailed below:
Judge Bryan (RJB) granted CR to military veteran L.M., who was the lead defendant in a drug trafficking case, and received a 120-month sentence because the Government would not budge from the mandatory minimum. At sentencing, RJB found LM warranted a minor role, dropping the range to 84-105 months, although it provided little comfort as he was not safety valve eligible. For CR, I made two arguments. First, per the 2nd Circuit case of Brooker, RJB could grant CR on the grounds that the sentence was “excessive.” Second, that LM’s asthma – which BOP (Bureau of Prisons) records did not qualify in terms of severity - warranted CR. RJB initially denied the motion, rejecting my “excessive” argument and maintaining it was improper for RJB to interfere with the mandatory minimum. On the second issue, he found that LM had not shown his medical issues were serious enough to warrant CR. On reconsideration, Dr. Stern provided a declaration identifying the type of asthma (“moderate”) and spotted a new and even more CDC-worthy health issue (obesity -not listed in the BOP med recs). The Gov’t opposed on the ground that LM had just been vaccinated. In granting CR on reconsideration, Judge Bryan found that LM’s health issues now met the “extraordinary and compelling” standard. Regarding the 3553 factors, RJB noted that LM’s release date was only a year away; he showed remorse via a letter to RJB, and LM’s recent vaccination was irrelevant to a pending CR motion (also citing Dr. Stern’s supplemental declaration that vaccines are not necessarily the cure-all and an LA times article from last week echoing the same). Congrats to CJA Panel Attorney Phill Brennan and his client!
Client News with a Community Partnership:
Our office has been an official partner agency of Housing Connector, a city and county funded housing accessibility agency, since April of 2020. The program has now successfully housed its second FPD client in search of independent housing. The program assists clients who bring the financial resources to maintain a home, but have been denied housing due to their rent (debt and evictions), credit, and/or criminal histories. Our second participant in this program had faced rejection from housing opportunities for months before joining the Housing Connector program. He is now happily housed with his partner in their own beautiful apartment. Housing Connector was instrumental in this process, negotiating his move-in costs with the landlord. Thank you to Housing Connector and the compassionate landlords working with our clients!
On February 22nd, Chief Judge Martinez hosted a roundtable on systemic racism in the criminal legal system. Representatives from FPD and CJA attended, along with leadership from all of the other district’s stakeholder entities. The goal was to initiate a conversation about racial justice issues in our district and to encourage everyone to work within their own agency and collaboratively with others to find ways to achieve a more racially equitable system. Through a pair of skilled professional facilitators, we had frank discussions about race, our experiences, and our ambitions, and everyone involved seemed to be sincere and committed to making changes. The FPD was proud and honored to participate in this important conversation and are hopeful it is the first step towards more conversations and concrete steps for real change.
Again this year, the FPD maintained its commitment to Youth Law Day, which took place virtually on March 17, 2021. Youth Law Day is sponsored by the Federal Bar Association for the Western District of Washington and partners with the College Success Foundation of Washington State. This year, students from all across Washington took place in a virtual session to learn about careers in the federal legal system. The Honorable Richard A. Jones joined Youth Law Day and inspired the students during his opening and closing remarks. Tacoma FPD Investigator Stacey Brownstein and FPD Social Worker Dan Potter-Engleskirger spoke to the students and faculty about their career paths and work at the FPD. The students also heard about myriad career paths from a paralegal with the United States Attorney's office, Court staff (including the United States Marshals, United States Pretrial Services, court technology, and both a court reporter & court interpreter), and law enforcement agencies.
The FPD looks forward to joining Youth Law Day in person again next year, and to the return of the mock trial!
In partnership with the ACLU of Washington, Seattle AFD Vanessa Pai-Thompson led virtual 2021 Civics Day sessions for high school Seniors across Kent School District. Civics Day was founded in 2016 by former public defender Twyla Carter. The program continues annually through joint efforts by the ACLU of Washington, the FPD, participating school districts, and other community partners. The FPD’s contribution to Civics Day is consistent with the office's historical commitment to community engagement through speaking at school events and participating in court or bar-related events focused on high school students. Because the students will one day be voters and jurors, it is vital that they learn about civics within the context of the judicial system.
In non-pandemic years, Civics Day offers students the opportunity to speak with youth who are or have been involved with the juvenile and criminal justice systems, lawyers, defense investigators and social workers, and law enforcement officers during full-day, in-person sessions. Each Civics Day also includes a Know Your Rights workshop. Although we were unable to convene in person this year, the FPD, ACLU of Washington, and the Kent School District remained committed to keeping the program going. This year, across two virtual sessions presented multiple times throughout the week, Civics Day provided students an opportunity to learn about our judicial system and to engage in a Know Your Rights workshop.
We look forward to being back together in person next year!
The Seattle FPD Office welcomes two new undergrad interns for Spring 2021!