Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, February 26, 2021

Harris: Affirming Denial of Compassionate Release

In United States v. Harris, No. 20-12023 (Feb. 26, 2021) (Jordan, Grant, Ed Carnes), the Court affirmed the denial of defendant's motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A).  

As an initial matter, the Court sua sponte addressed its jurisdiction to hear the case.  It held, for the first time, that 3582(c)(1)(A)'s exhaustion requirement is not jurisdictional, and is instead a non-jurisdictional claim-processing rule.

Addressing the merits of the appeal, the Court first noted that because the statute speaks permissively and says the district court "may" reduce a defendant's sentence, the district court's decision is discretionary and subject to review only for abuse of discretion. 

The Court accepted, without deciding, that medical conditions can rise to being "extraordinary and compelling" reasons warranting a sentencing reduction, and concluded that the medical conditions presented here were not.  Of the conditions presented, only hypertension appears on the CDC's list of conditions, and it appears only as one that means an adult with it "might be at an increased risk" of severe illness from COVID-19.  As a result, the Court concluded that the district court did not abuse it discretion in deciding that defendant's medical conditions were not "extraordinary and compelling" reasons to grant compassionate release.  

The Court also concluded that the district court's independent consideration of the 3553(a) factors and 1B1.13 n.1 further supported its holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant's motion.  

The Court noted in a footnote that it was not reaching the issue of whether a district court is required to consider 1B1.13 n.1.