Schiff Hardin LLP recently secured compassionate release and relief from federal incarceration on behalf of two pro bono inmate clients who each suffered from underlying medical conditions that put them at high risk of serious illness and/or death from COVID-19 had they been exposed in their federal prisons. Each client is now safe at home, and did not contract COVID-19 prior to their release.
Elise Yu and Pat Pileggi won compassionate release for our client, a 43-year-old man with a history of diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension, who was incarcerated at FCI Terre Haute after being convicted of drug trafficking and weapons offenses.
While conceding that our client’s underlying medical conditions were an “extraordinary and compelling reason” to justify a sentence reduction, the federal government opposed our compassionate release motion, citing the seriousness of our client’s crimes and his “nettlesome and persistent antisocial personality traits.” The government also did not dispute the seriousness of COVID-19, the increased risk of COVID-19 to individuals with underlying medical conditions, and the outsized risk of spread in federal detention centers.
The court rejected the government’s opposition, noting that it was not enough to justify our client’s continued exposure to the danger of COVID-19, and that it made “little sense” to require our client to serve the remaining six months of an 84-month prison term in a federal prison “when other measures exist that will serve the public interest.” The court modified our client’s prison sentence to time served plus two weeks for quarantine, and extended the term of his supervised release by six months. Our client was released to his mother’s home in August – six months early. His family was overjoyed to welcome him home.
Jacob Danziger and William Ziegelmueller won compassionate release for our client, a 57-year-old man with a history of diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and heart disease, who was incarcerated at FCI Elkton (Ohio) after being convicted of asbestos-related environmental offenses and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Elkton is a federal prison facing one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks involving inmate deaths.
While our client’s motion for compassionate release was pending with the District Court, Jacob engaged in parallel direct advocacy with the Elkton prison warden and staff, ultimately convincing the warden to change their internal evaluation of our client’s risk factors. Based on this re-evaluation, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) determined that our client was qualified to serve the remainder of his sentence on home confinement, and he was released in late June.
Subsequently, the District Court ruled that because our client had received the administrative relief that he had sought from the BOP directly, there was no longer any basis to grant our motion for compassionate release, because our client was no longer at risk from coronavirus while serving his sentence at home. Without Schiff’s advocacy, our client would not have been released until 2023, at the earliest. His family is grateful that he will be permitted to serve the remaining years of his sentence safely at home.
The two pro bono cases were referred to Schiff by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Compassionate Release Clearinghouse.