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Eleventh Circuit Affirms Denial of Compassionate Release Where One Factor Isn’t Satisfied Even After Assuming Other Factors Were

by Douglas Ankney


On September 28, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied the appeal of a federal prisoner in Florida, whose application for compassionate release satisfied the first factor enumerated by statute, saying that one factor carried no more weight than others referenced in the statute but found outside of it.

The prisoner, Delvin Tinker, is serving a 180-month sentence with the federal Bureau of Prisons for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He moved for compassionate release in federal court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging that his obesity, hypertension, congenitally narrowed spinal canal, and mental illness increased his risk of developing a severe illness should he contract COVID-19 and that such risk qualified him for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).

The district court first said it would assume that Tinker’s medical condition did in fact present “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for early release, as the relevant statute required. Yet it ultimately denied relief after considering the sentencing factors enumerated by another statute at 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), as well as federal sentencing guidelines found at U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13.

Tinker appealed, arguing first that the district court erred when it assumed that he satisfied the “extraordinary and compelling reason” criterion without making explicit factual findings to that effect, meaning his alleged symptoms were not properly considered. Moreover, he also assigned error to the reliance on sentencing guidelines, arguing they are less binding than statute. Finally, he disputed the district court’s evaluation of the statutory sentencing factors, saying his mitigating evidence was not considered.

Taking up the case, the Eleventh Circuit began by observing that the statute governing compassionate release allows a court to “reduce the term of imprisonment ..., after considering the factors set forth in § 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if it finds that ... extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction ... and that such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.”

Those “applicable policy statements,” the Court said, are found in the sentencing guidelines at U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13, which state that a term of imprisonment may be reduced only if a court finds that a defendant “is not a danger to the safety of any other person or to the community.” Moreover, that policy statement is applicable to all motions, the Court continued. Consequently, “district courts may not reduce a sentence under § 3582(c)(1)(A) unless a reduction would be consistent with [§] 1B1.13,” the Court held, citing United States v. Bryant, 996 F.3d 1243 (11th Cir. 2021).

The Court also failed to find error in the district court’s analysis of the statutory factors found in § 3553(a). It wasn’t necessary to address “each of the § 3553(a) factors or all of the mitigating evidence,” the Court said, quoting United States v. Taylor, 997 F.3d 1348 (11th Cir. 2021), because “an acknowledgement by the district court that it considered the § 3553(a) factors and the parties’ arguments is sufficient.”

Therefore, the Court said that Tinker’s prison term might have been reduced only if the sentencing factors favored doing so AND there were “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for doing so AND doing so wouldn't endanger any person or the community. But nothing in the statute governing compassionate release requires the analysis to be conducted in any particular order. If all necessary conditions are satisfied, relief is granted; “the absence of even one,” however, “forecloses a sentence reduction,” the Court said.

In its assessment of Tinker’s motion, the district court found that neither the sentencing factors nor sentencing guidelines were satisfied. So it made no difference to assume, without undertaking further analysis, that Tinker’s health problems presented “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” Even if the district court had conducted such an analysis and concluded Tinker did in fact present “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” his motion would still be denied, the Court said, because Tinker failed to meet the remaining two criteria.

This the district court’s denial of compassionate release was affirmed. The Eleventh Circuit’s conclusion of the matter was unanimous with the conclusions of the Sixth Circuit in United States v. Jones, 980 F.3d 1098 (6th Cir. 2020); the Eighth Circuit in United States v. Rodd, 966 F.3d 740 (8th Cir. 2020); the Ninth Circuit in United States v. Keller, 2 F.4th 1278 (9th Cir. 2021); the Tenth Circuit in United States v. Hald, 8 F.4th 932 (10th Cir. 2021); and the D.C. Circuit in United States v. Long, 997 F.3d 342 (D.C. Cir. 2021).

On appeal, Tinker was represented by attorneys from the Federal Public Defender’s Miami office, Michael Caruso and Tracy M. Dreispul. See: United States v. Tinker, 14 F.4th 1234 (11th Cir. 2021).

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Related legal case

United States v. Tinker