Drug Defendants Face Uphill Battle in Seeking COVID-19 “Compassionate Release”

June 5th, 2020 by Tad Nelson in Drug Crime

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched every part of American society. But prisons are especially vulnerable to outbreaks. Thousands of inmates and prison staff have already tested positive for the virus, and dozens have died as a result of their exposure.

In response to this crisis at the federal level, Congress included provisions in the CARES Act to expand the eligibility of certain inmates for home confinement. The U.S. Attorney General also issued a memorandum directing the Bureau of Prisons to “prioritize the use of your various statutory authorities to grant home confinement for inmates seeking transfer in connection with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Unfortunately, only a relative handful of prisoners have actually been granted “compassionate release” under these directives. According to USA Today, in the month following the Attorney General’s memorandum, only 1,027 prisoners were released to home confinement. This represents less than 1 percent of the total federal prison population.

Judges have also been unwilling to grant compassionate release, even for non-violent offenders convicted of drug crimes. For example, on May 14, a federal judge in Corpus Christi denied a compassionate release request filed by a 36-year-old man currently serving a 7-year sentence for cocaine possession.

The man asked for either a reduction in his sentence to time served or, alternatively, for release to home confinement under the CARES Act. In his petition, the man explained that he suffers from “serious medical and mental health conditions” and that he is at “greater risk of severe health complications” should he contract COVID-19 while still in prison.

The Bureau of Prisons, however, opposed compassionate release, stating the man had not provided any medical evidence to support his claims and there was no “extraordinary and compelling reason” to release him to home confinement. The Bureau also expressed concern that if released, the defendant might still commit additional crimes or somehow pose a risk to the community.

The judge did not address the merits of the man’s petition, however, ruling that under the provisions of the CARES Act, he must first file a request for compassionate release directly with the Bureau. Should the Bureau deny such an administrative request, then the appropriate course of action would be to file a petition with the federal court in Atlanta, where the man is actually imprisoned, and not Texas. But the judge cautioned that nothing in the CARES Act or the Attorney General’s memorandum actually requires compassionate release.

Speak with a Houston Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the special health and safety risks faced by prisoners everyday in the United States. Nobody should face a possible death sentence over a drug possession charge. So if you or someone in your family is facing a drug charge and you need representation from a qualified criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today to schedule a consultation by calling 281-280-0100.

 

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