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Covid-19 No Cause for Early Release

Prisoners seeking to avoid contracting Cronavirus must exhaust administrative avenues before a district court may consider an application for compassionate release. This according to an appeals panel in the US 7th Circuit, which declined to entertain a request for commutation of the time remaining on a cocaine trafficker’s sentence due to the man’s having failed to follow federal Bureau of Prisons procedure

Gregory Sanford in April submitted a pair of requests to officials at the federal penitentiary in Victorville, Calif., and then petitioned the district court that sentenced him pro se without waiting for a response. Sanford is serving a 15-year stretch for a 2012 arrest on a highway outside Peoria that yielded 1.5 kilograms of the drug. He made his bid for compassionate release for fear of contracting the highly communicable virus, which has spread relentlessly through that state’s prison system.

A judge in the Southern District of Illinois overlooked the exhaustion claim and concurred with the government that Sanford’s age and physical condition failed to satisfy the bureau’s ‘extraordinary and compelling’ standard for relief. The 38-year-old appealed, contending he suffers both physically and mentally from the threat posed by Covid-19.

Unlike in district court, appeals judges hinged their ruling on the exhaustion claim, agreeing with both the prison warden and the government that Sanford’s failure to wait the mandatory 30 days before petitioning the court precluded granting relief. They cited case law in joining three sister districts, which have held that administrative channels must be pursued when the government invokes mandatory bureau rules on the processing of such requests.

The ruling demonstrates the impediments to release for prisoners endangered in the pandemic, which has infected more than a quarter of a million inmates across the country. The DuPage County Expungement and Sealing Lawyers represent clients in courts around the state, including in sentence appeals and the expungement and sealing of court records. We use teleconferencing platforms like Zoom and Webex to interact with clients and to act on their behalf in court. To learn more about our services, contact our offices in Downers Grove and downtown Chicago to arrange a free consultation. Should you retain us, our team of experienced professionals will represent you zealously.