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SF Federal Prosecutor Allows Leniency for Sick Inmates Seeking Early Release

Posted by Seth Chazin | May 19, 2020 | 0 Comments

San Francisco's top U.S. prosecutor will no longer require defendants pleading guilty during the coronavirus pandemic to wait at least 180 days before seeking release if they become seriously ill in prison.

“Compassionate release” allows prisoners in federal custody who are dying or gravely ill to ask a judge to be transferred to home confinement if the judge determines it would not endanger the public. A 2018 federal law allows the inmate to go to court 30 days after seeking release from the prison warden.

U.S. Attorney David Anderson's office in San Francisco had imposed an additional condition in plea agreements, which resolve the majority of criminal cases: After being turned down by the warden, the inmate had to appeal to the U.S Bureau of Prisons within 10 days and could not go to court until at least 180 days after the warden's rejection.

In a ruling last Monday that rejected a plea agreement for an Oakland man charged with selling drugs in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood, U.S. district Judge Charles Breyer called Anderson's requirement legally unauthorized and “appallingly cruel,” and said the waiting period could be “devastating for a prisoner with a terminal illness or children left uncared for.”

Anderson's office is waiving any waiting period to file for compassionate release, as it could be imperative to the health of an inmate.

You can read more about a compassionate release that was considered due to COVID-19 here: United States v. Raia, — F.3d —, 2020 WL 1647922 (3d Cir. April 2, 2020)

About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson