With the First Step Act and Compassionate Release, people in federal prison have more reason than ever to build records of “compelling and extraordinary” accomplishments.
The First Step Act and Compassionate Release
In 2018, President Trump signed prison-reform legislation into law. That First Step Act opened many opportunities for people in federal prison. Among many other features, the First Step Act authorizes people serving federal sentences to petition both the Bureau of Prisons and the judge that imposed sentence to consider early release. For that reason, I consider the First Step Act to be the most significant prison-reform legislation since 1987.
Historically, the Bureau of Prisons would only grant compassionate release in the rarest of circumstances. For decades, the law authorized the Director of the Bureau of Prisons to grant compassionate release to people in federal prison. If a person in prison suffered from a terminal illness, the possibility existed that the Bureau of Prisons would support a motion for compassionate release. A person in prison did not have the standing to ask a court for compassionate release. If the Bureau of Prisons refused to ask a Court for compassionate release, the person in prison did not have any standing to move the court on his or her own behalf.
Mechanics of Compassionate Release:
In today’s video, we can learn from Josh Boyer, a person that served more than 16 years in federal prison. Josh is not a lawyer. He did not go to law school. Instead, Josh made bad decisions as a young man. He went to prison at the start of the century. While passing through almost 17 years in federal prisons of every security level, Josh educated himself on the law. From the time he started serving his sentence, Josh began studying law books. He learned about:
- Legislation that applied to people in federal prison,
- Statutes that applied to people in federal prison,
- District Court case laws,
- Circuit Court case laws,
- U.S. Supreme Court case law
- Criminal Procedure,
- Civil Procedure.
If a person in prison doesn’t have financial resources to hire an attorney, the person must learn to advocate for himself. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court authorizes people that have skills in legal research and legal writing to help other people that do not have such skills. Josh learned to advocate for himself.
Over the years, hundreds of other people in prison asked Josh to assist them with motions they wanted to file in court. Josh helped every person that asked for his assistance in filing motions that could, potentially, lead to an earlier release date. He worked on administrative remedy efforts through the prison system, he worked on habeas corpus petitions, he worked on direct appeals. All of those efforts gave Josh exceptional skill.
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Extraordinary and Compelling Circumstances:
During our conversation about The First Step Act and Compassionate Release, Josh told us about the factors that stakeholders will consider when assessing whether a person in federal prison was worthy of compassionate release. Some of those factors include:
- A person must develop a record that shows extraordinary and compelling circumstances.
- The judge will also consider factors articulated under Title 18 U.S.C. Section 3553.
- The judge will also consider policy statements that the sentencing commission has made.
- The judge will also consider the person’s release plan, to assess the level of risk that exists with regard to the person’s release.
Filing a motion pursuant to The First Step Act and Compassionate Release:
With the First Step Act, people do not have to wait for the Bureau of Prisons to assess whether release is worthy. Rather, a person can pursue a disciplined, deliberate strategy. To file the motion in federal court:
- The person may hire an attorney that is licensed to practice law in federal court.
- The person may learn about civil procedure and file the motion pro-se.
If a person wants to file the motion pro-se, the person must be skilled at articulating his story. He must rely upon all of his persuasive skills to help the stakeholders understand why he is a worthy candidate for compassionate release.
Compassionate release is not an easy lift. That doesn’t mean it’s an impossible lift. If a person does not work to build a compelling case, the chances are high that the person will not receive any relief from the sentence. If a person has a compelling case for relief, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a judge will authorize compassionate release.
Your Compassionate Release Petition
Many people who do not have the resources to hire an attorney want assistance. The law does not authorize anyone to hire a non-lawyer to file a motion on their behalf. Ultimately, if a person wants assistance in filing a motion for compassionate release, the person must file the motion independently, or the person may hire an attorney.
Building a Persuasive Case for Compassionate Release:
In a separate video, we profiled our friend Adam Clausen.
Adam was serving a sentence of 213 years. He never gave hope. Instead, he worked every day to build a record of compelling and extraordinary accomplishments. He built a solid release plan. He built a strong support network. That support network worked on his behalf to file a motion for compassionate release. Josh participated on that team that worked for Adam. When Adam’s sentencing judge reviewed the motion, he agreed to release Adam Clausen on grounds of compassionate release.
A judge may or may not agree that a person in federal prison is worthy of compassionate release. Yet if a person doesn’t try, the person will never know.