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February 17, 2022

Deepening circuit split, First Circuit embraces broad view of sentence reduction authority under 3582(c)(1)(A)

I have not consistently blogged about every circuit ruling concerning the nature and scope of authority that district judges now have to reduced sentences under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) after the FIRST STEP Act.  Suffice it to say that these issues are so contested that they have created an intra-circuit splits in the Sixth Circuit as well as broader divisions across multiple circuits.  But I was moved to blog on this topic again because the First Circuit weighed in earlier this week in US v. Ruvalcaba, NO. 21-1064 (1st Cir. Feb. 15, 2022) (available here) through an opinion that effective reviews the legal landscape on its way to reaching this basic holding: 

After careful consideration, we hold that a district court — when adjudicating a prisoner-initiated motion for compassionate release — is not bound by the Sentencing Commission's current policy statement. We further hold that such a court may consider the FSA's non-retroactive changes in sentencing law on an individualized basis, grounded in a defendant's particular circumstances, to determine whether an extraordinary and compelling reason exists for compassionate release.

The second part of this holding is one that has particularly divided circuit courts, and I was pleased to see this textualist analysis from the majority opinion in support of its conclusion:

Nowhere has Congress expressly prohibited district courts from considering non-retroactive changes in sentencing law like those in section 401 of the FSA. Such a prohibition cannot be deduced from section 3582(c)(1)(A)'s requirement that a court consider the section 3553(a) factors when granting a sentence reduction. No part of this requirement suggests that a district court is precluded from considering issues relevant to those sentencing factors at the separate step of determining whether an extraordinary and compelling reason exists. Were this the case, there would have been no reason for Congress to caution that rehabilitation — a relevant consideration in the section 3553(a) inquiry — could not constitute an extraordinary and compelling reason....

On the whole, given the language that Congress deliberately chose to employ, we see no textual support for concluding that such changes in the law may never constitute part of a basis for an extraordinary and compelling reason. We are, moreover, reluctant to infer that Congress intended such a categorical and unwritten exclusion in light of its specific statutory exclusion regarding rehabilitation.

In addition to the effective majority opinion, Ruvalcaba also has a notable extended dissent by Judge Barron in which he highlights another older extreme sentencing cases from the First Circuit — an remarkable case in which, as noted here, the entire First Circuit issued a remarkable opinion urging Supreme Court review while denying en banc review — which would seem to now have another chance to be addressed via 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) thanks to Ruvalcaba. 

February 17, 2022 at 12:20 AM | Permalink


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