Compassionate Release

Courts in the 11th Circuit Issue Compassionate Release Rulings

Courts in the 11th Circuit have issued compassionate release rulings that may have impacts on all incarcerated persons.

11th Circuit Holds that Motion Filed Pre-Guidelines Amendments Subject to Old Guidelines today: Tolpintsev, 23-10648 Glib Ivanov-Tolpintsev was sentenced in the past and filed a motion to reduce his sentence pro se. He claimed that he had tuberculosis and that his mother has recently suffered a cancer diagnosis. The district court denied his compassionate release. He conceded that his tuberculosis is latent and managed by the BOP's prophylactic treatment. He also indicated that his mother was suffering from cancer. The district court denied his compassionate release. Tolpintsev appealed, indicating that:

"(1)the district court erred in relying on the definition of extraordinary and compelling circumstances from U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 because that section only applies to compassionate release motions submitted by the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"); (2) the court failed to adequately explain which of the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors justified the denial of his sentence reduction; and (3) the court ignored his health conditions and his mother's illness, and it abused its discretion in finding that he was not entitled to compassionate release."

This decision, ruled upon January 3, 2024, used the old version of 1B1.13 and noted that they were bound by the Sentencing Commission's definition of extraordinary and compelling reasons:

"In relevant part, a defendant can establish extraordinary and compelling circumstances based on a medical condition by showing that he is suffering from a serious physical or medical condition, that substantially diminishes his ability to provide self-care within the environment of a correctional facility and from which he is not expected to recover. Id. (n.1(A)(ii)). A defendant can establish extraordinary and compelling circumstances based on family circumstances in two situations, upon the death or incapacitation of the caregiver of the defendant's minor child or minor children, or upon the incapacitation of the defendant's spouse when the defendant would be the only available caregiver. Id. (n.1(C)(i)-(ii)). We are bound by the Sentencing Commission's definition of extraordinary and compelling reasons. United States v. Bryant, 996 F.3d 1243, 1251, 1262 (11th Cir. 2021)."

The 11th circuit went on to note that the fact that the BOP can treat his illness meant that he could not establish extraordinary and compelling reasons and that his mother's cancer diagnosis does not fall within the family circumstances that justify compassionate release. As a result he could not establish extraordinary and compelling reasons and the denial of his motion was affirmed. 23-10648 Handlon, 22-13699

Handlon was found guilty and sentenced to crimes. He received sentences of life in prison as well as concurrent sentences of 360 and 120 months. He filed for compassionate release because his 85-year-old father had been diagnosed with lung cancer and needed help. He asked to be released so that he could spend what time he had left with his father. The district court denied that motion indicating that there was no supporting documentation about the father's condition or care or whether the Handlon was the only available caretaker.

Handlon filed a document that he called a "motion to amend" his earlier motion for compassionate release. He clarified that his father did not have lung cancer but instead had "chronic stage 3 kidney disease, cerebral infarction to embolism of middle cerebral artery, memory impairment, hearing loss, and aneurysm of thoracic aorta." He also stated that his sisters could not provide around the clock care. The court determined that to be a motion for reconsideration and denied it, concluding that "the additional information fail[ed] to support an extraordinary and compelling circumstance for a reduction in sentence and release [of Handlon] to care for his father." Handlon appealed.

The court noted that at the time of his appeal, "the Sentencing Commission's policy statement had identified only four categories of "extraordinary and compelling" reasons that could make a movant eligible for a sentence reduction: (1) the defendant's medical condition, (2) the defendant's age, (3) the defendant's status as the only potential caregiver for a minor child or spouse, and (4) "other reasons" as determined by the Director of the Bureau of Prisons…That last "catch-all" category did not "grant discretion to courts to develop 'other reasons' that might justify a reduction in a defendant's sentence." Bryant, 996 F.3d at 1247-48; see also id. at 1262-65.

" The courts went on to note that "Since the parties submitted their briefs to this Court, an amendment to the policy statement contained in the relevant guidelines has gone into effect. See U.S.S.G. App. C, Amend. 814 (effective Nov. 1, 2023). The newest version of the policy statement includes in its definitions of "[e]xtraordinary and compelling reasons" a circumstance that is closer to the ground Handlon has asserted: "The incapacitation of the defendant's parent when the defendant would be the only available caregiver for the parent."

But the court was unwilling to apply that ruling retroactively to Handlon's case in this action because they determined it to be a substantive amendment, not a clarifying amendment. Because of this the court determined that the motion was properly denied.

Lastly, the court indicated that nothing would prevent Handlon from refiling this motion now under the new guideliens:

"The government suggests that Handlon could file a new motion for compassionate release now that the amendment to the policy statement is in effect. It appears that nothing in 18 U.S.C. § 3582 prevents Handlon from doing that. But there was no error in the district court's denial of the motion before the new amendment went into effect."

Northern District of Georgia Finds that Government Contradicts Themselves on 3582 motions: Allen

Allen was charged with drug and gun crimes. Eventually he was superseded with conspiracy crimes, aiding and abetting crimes, and firearm crimes. He was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to life.

He filed a 3582 motion indicating under the "change in law" guidelines of 1B1.13(b)(6), specifically that:

(6) Unusually Long Sentence.-If a defendant received an unusually long sentence and has served at least 10 years of the term of imprisonment, a change in the law (other than an amendment to the Guidelines Manual that has not been made retroactive) may be considered in determining whether the defendant presents an extraordinary and compelling reason, but only where such change would produce a gross disparity between the sentence being served and the sentence likely to be imposed at the time the motion is filed, and after full consideration of the defendant's individualized circumstances.

(Allen also sought relief based on his medical conditions but they were not deemed to be extraordinary and compelling by the district court) The government opposed the motion thusly:

"The Government opposes Allen's motion, arguing that the Commission did not have authority to pass the amendment and that it is contrary to 'Congress's deliberate choice' to make certain statutory changes nonretroactive. Because it lacked authority, the Government argues, the Court must find that the provision is invalid."

The court noted that courts in the circuit disagreed on it but that the 11th circuit had not made an opinion on the matter:

"Because the Eleventh Circuit has never held that nonretroactive changes cannot be extraordinary and compelling reasons, this Court can accept § 1B1.13(b)(6)'s validity and applicability. To hold that courts cannot consider nonretroactive changes to sentencing laws as extraordinary or compelling reasons would require courts to ignore the policy statement that Congress explicitly directed the Commission to create. Bryant, 996 F.3d at 1255 ("There is no question that 1B1.13 is the policy statement the Commission adopted to comply with this statutory mandate." (citations omitted)). The amendments revised the policy statement to unambiguously allow courts to consider nonretroactive changes in individual circumstances. And nothing in § 3582(c)(1)(A)'s text "prohibits the Commission from considering nonretroactive changes in the law as extraordinary and compelling reasons for a sentence reduction." Capps, No. 1:11-cr- 108, at 18. "Congress could have drafted ․ a blanket prohibition into § 3582(c)(1)(A)," but decided not to. Id. Therefore, the Commission's decision to expand upon the policy statement was within its statutory authority and presents no separation of powers issues.

Further, the Government's argument contradicts itself. The Department of Justice has previously argued that courts should refrain from addressing the retroactivity question because "it should be addressed first by the Commission." Amendments to the Sentencing Guidelines, supra at 6; see also [598] at 5 n.11. The Commission has now addressed the issue. How can the Commission have the authority to address the question but exceed that authority by addressing the question? This argument lacks merit.

Because the Court concludes that the amendment was within the Commission's power, it now analyzes whether Allen's individualized circumstances qualify him for relief." As a result, the court analyzed whether Allen's circumstances qualified him for relief. The court answered the factors in the affirmative and ordered a resentencing hearing to be held in the future.


There are a couple of things that we can take from these 3582 cases:

  1. If you filed a motion before the 2023 amendments that has not been ruled on the court might not automatically use the new amendments. The two 11th circuit cases here used the pre-2023 guidelines as a framework and noted that today Handlon could even refile under the new guidelines. If you file pro se, this might mean that you would go to the back of the line, but the 2023 guidelines might be more in your favor and put you in a better position.
  2. Some courts are rejecting the government's arguments. The government has been writing responses to 3582 motions indicating that the new amendments are outside of the commission's authority. But some courts are quick to point out that the Department of Justice has "previously argued that courts should refrain from addressing the retroactivity question because 'it should be addressed first by the Commission.'" As a reminder, the sentencing commission made their amendments and no votes were even taken on these amendments in the house or senate.

That is all that I have for you this week. Another newsletter will come out next week.

Take care and stay safe.


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