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Washington Court Discusses Compassionate Release During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In some cases in which a defendant is sentenced to imprisonment, he or she may be able to obtain a reduced sentence or compassionate release. There are strict parameters that define when a compassionate release is appropriate, and a court will not grant a defendant compassionate release unless the defendant demonstrates that one of the limited circumstances applies. Recently, a Washington court assessed whether the COVID-19 pandemic warrants sufficient grounds for a defendant serving a sentence for assault to obtain compassionate release, ultimately determining that it did not. If you live in Washington and are accused of committing assault, it is advisable to speak to a skillful Washington assault defense attorney to discuss your options.

Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was serving a prison term of twenty months for assaulting a police officer. The defendant, who was 23-years-old, suffered from a heart murmur and filed an emergency motion for compassionate release, arguing that it was warranted due to the threat that he would become infected with COVID-19 while imprisoned. After reviewing the facts and relevant law, the court denied the defendant’s motion.

Grounds for Compassionate Release

Generally, a conviction that includes a sentence of imprisonment is a final judgment that may not be modified by a district court, with limited exceptions. For example, under the compassionate release statute, a defendant may only seek a reduction in a sentence when he or she establishes that he or she has met the statutory exhaustion requirements, a compelling and extraordinary reason supports the defendant’s motion, and the reduction sought is consistent with the policy statement, which sets forth the criteria for determining if a compelling reason for a sentence reduction exists.

Specifically, the policy statement provides that a court may reduce a prison term if, in addition to meeting the statutory requirements, the defendant does not pose a threat to the safety of any person or the community at large. Extraordinary and compelling reasons that would support a plea for a reduction in a sentence include a terminal illness or serious medical condition.

In the subject case, the court found that the defendant did not meet the exhaustion requirements to be eligible for a reduced sentence. The court noted that even if the defendant had met the exhaustion requirements, however, he failed to demonstrate that a compelling and extraordinary reason for a reduction in his sentence existed. In other words, the court found that the threat that the defendant could become infected with COVID-19 was not a compelling and extraordinary reason for granting a compassionate release but was a risk posed to all of those who were confined.

The court declined to adopt the defendant’s reasoning that his heart murmur created a higher risk of serious complications if the defendant contracted COVID-19, noting that it was not a serious heart condition. Additionally, the court noted that the record did not indicate that the defendant did not pose a threat to the community. As such, the court denied the defendant’s motion.

Discuss your Case with a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with assault or any other crime, you should contact an attorney to discuss your rights and potential defenses. The zealous Washington assault defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White are adept at helping criminal defendants protect their interests, and if you engage our services, we will fight to help you seek a favorable result.  You can contact us through our form online or at 253-203-1645 to set up a conference.

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