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April 23, 2024

US Sentencing Commission's new compassionate release data suggest (small) uptick in sentence reduction grants to close 2023

The US Sentencing Commission yesterday released this new compassionate release data report, which includes data on "the compassionate release motions filed with the courts and decided during the first quarter of fiscal year 2024."  (For the USSC, the first quarter of FY 2024 is actually the last three months of 2023.)   I noticed some interesting data points in this report comparing the sentence reduction grants and grant rates of the last three months of 2023 to prior months in 2023 and even earlier years.

Specifically, the months of October and December 2023 saw the highest grant rates for these motions (22.3% and 23% respectively) than for any month since the heart of the COVID pandemic in summer 2020.  Indeed, as Table 1 in the new USSC data shows, the only other month with a greater than 20% grant rate for these motions since August 2020 was in December 2022.  In addition, the total number of sentence reduction grants in Q1 of FY 2024 was also up as compared to recent prior quarters: there were 119 total grants in Q1 of 2024 compared to 81 in Q4 and 111 in Q3 and 114 in Q2 of FY 2023.

What explains the uptick in grants of compassionate release motions in Q1 of FY 2024?  I have two working hypotheses, one general and one 2023 specific: (1) maybe judges are slightly more likely in general to grant these sentence reductions toward the end of the year during the holiday season; and/or (2) maybe judges were influenced a bit by the new US Sentencing Commission policy statement governing compassionate release, § 1B1.13, which became formally effective on November 1, 2023.

Also, as I have noted before in this space, some other notable data points here come from the variations in grant rates from various circuits and districts.  Here is one example in this latest data: in the Second Circuit in this quarter, nine of 12 total resolved sentence reduction motions were granted; in the Third Circuitthis quarter only one of 23 motions were granted.

Critically, my eyeball assessment of these latest data (which reflect small numbers and lots of potential confounding factors) may just be an effort to encourage more systematic analysis of how federal district judges are continuing to use their sentence reduction authority.  Especially with COVID-based reasons likely no longer driving a large number of requests or grants for compassionate release, I hope we start to learn more about what facts and factors are providing most consequential in this form of federal judicial (re)sentencing decision-making.

April 23, 2024 at 01:09 PM | Permalink


The change is all about the amendments to the Guideline. It opened the door to relief for those who got stacked 924(c) convictions.

Posted by: defendergirl | Apr 24, 2024 10:53:08 AM

Thanks, defendergirl, but the USSC report indictaed only 9 of 181 motions that were granted listed as a reason "Multiple 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) penalties" during Q1 of FY 2024. And FY 2023 averaged 10.5 grants including this this reason per quarter according to the USSC's total data from FY 2023. I would guess the stacked cases are part of the story in those circuits refusing to consider "changes in law" as a valid reason before the guideline change, but that does not seem to be the full story nationwide.

Posted by: Doug B | Apr 24, 2024 4:42:24 PM

defendergirl --

Just wondering: Do you regard the 34 felony counts in Alvin Bragg's indictment against Trump to be "stacked"? Kinda looks that way to me.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 27, 2024 10:45:36 AM

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