CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, June 20, 2022

Wu on Compassionate Relief and Nonretroactivity

Carl Wu has posted Canceling Compassion: Nonretroactivity and the Narrowing of Postconviction Relief in Federal Courts (Criminal Law Bulletin, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, which opened the door for incarcerated individuals to apply directly to district courts for release or a sentence reduction by way of compassionate release. A form of postconviction relief, certain federal courts have narrowed the scope of eligibility for compassionate release based on a restrictive reading of what are “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for relief. Specifically, these courts hold that nonretroactive changes in sentencing law cannot constitute such “extraordinary and compelling” reasons as a matter of law. This article explores the now-intractable circuit split that has emerged on this issue, critiques the underlying non-textual motivations that have guided certain courts, and proposes an immediate resolution by the Supreme Court. Yet the deep disagreement amongst the courts, which has precluded relief based solely on an individual’s geographic location, raises a further question: should courts be the sole arbiter of compassionate release?

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