United States v. Dodd

Decision Date10 July 2020
Docket NumberCase Number: 4:13-CR-182-SDJ-CAN
Citation471 F.Supp.3d 750
Parties UNITED STATES of America v. Deborah Ann DODD (2)
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas

Ernest Gonzalez, U.S. Attorney's Office, Plano, TX, for United States of America.

Phillip Michael Hawk, Jr., Pro Hac Vice, Law Office of Micheal Hawk PC, Plano, TX, for Deborah Ann Dodd.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

SEAN D. JORDAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Before the Court is Defendant Deborah Ann Dodd's Emergency Motion for Compassionate Release pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). (Dkt. #145). Raising health concerns related to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, Dodd requests that her remaining sentence be reduced to time served or, alternatively, that she may complete the remainder of her sentence on home confinement. The Government has responded in opposition, (Dkt. #148), to which Dodd replied, (Dkt. #149).1 The Court, having considered the motion and response, the record, and the applicable law, finds that the motion must be DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction .

I. BACKGROUND

Dodd pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine or 50 grams or more of methamphetamine (actual), in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 and 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A). She was sentenced to a 140-month term of imprisonment and has been in custody since 2015. (Dkt. #120).

Dodd has requested that, because of risks to her health associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, she be released from the Bureau of Prisons’ ("BOP") FCI Pekin facility, where she is currently serving her sentence. Relying on 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), Dodd specifically requests that she be "resentenced" to time served or, alternatively, that the Court order that she complete the remainder of her sentence on home confinement.

Dodd filed an electronic mail request for compassionate release with her warden on March 24, 2020, stating that her health conditions place her at heightened risk of grave illness if she is infected with COVID-19. (Dkt. #149-1, Ex. A). Dodd advised the warden that she suffers from a number of chronic illnesses, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and high blood pressure. She further noted that she is a breast cancer survivor. The warden responded that Dodd needed to provide the request "in writing" and provide further information. Dodd later submitted a renewed request for compassionate release on April 7, 2020, which was denied. Dodd filed her compassionate-release motion in this Court on April 24, 2020. (Dkt. #145).

The Government opposes Dodd's motion, arguing that it is not properly before the Court because Dodd failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, and in any event, the COVID-19 pandemic is not an extraordinary and compelling reason justifying a reduction in Dodd's sentence. (Dkt. #148).

II. DISCUSSION

A judgment of conviction imposing a sentence of imprisonment "constitutes a final judgment and may not be modified by a district court except in limited circumstances." Dillon v. United States , 560 U.S. 817, 824, 130 S.Ct. 2683, 177 L.Ed.2d 271 (2010) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3582(b) ); see also 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). One such circumstance, invoked by Dodd, arises from 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), which authorizes a district court to reduce a term of imprisonment when "extraordinary and compelling reasons" for a reduction exist that are "consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission," and other procedural and substantive requirements are met. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).

Although Dodd has met section 3582(c)(1)(A) ’s exhaustion requirement, she has not met the statute's requirement that "extraordinary and compelling reasons" exist "consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission," warranting a reduction of her sentence. Dodd's motion, therefore, must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

A. Dodd Has Met Section 3582(c)(1)(A) ’s Exhaustion Requirement.

Dodd's compassionate-release motion may be considered only if she first meets section 3582(c)(1)(A) ’s exhaustion requirement. The statute provides that a court may not consider any modification to a defendant's sentence under section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) unless a motion for such a modification is properly made by the Director of the BOP or by a defendant who has fully exhausted his or her administrative remedies. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). The Director of the BOP may request a sentence reduction in court at any time. Id. A defendant may also make such a request, but only after fully exhausting remedies within the BOP or after thirty days have passed since he or she sought administrative remedies. Id.2

Dodd has met section 3582(c)(1)(A) ’s exhaustion requirement. Under 28 C.F.R. § 571.61, a prisoner's section 3582(c)(1)(A) request for compassionate release must be submitted to the warden of his or her facility. The regulation provides that the request, which must "ordinarily" be in writing, should advise the warden of the extraordinary or compelling circumstances that the inmate believes warrant consideration, as well as the inmate's proposed release plan, including where the inmate will reside and the inmate's plans for any potential medical treatment. 28 C.F.R. § 571.61. Dodd submitted her request electronically to the warden of her facility on March 24, 2020. The request described Dodd's health conditions and asserted that, given her infirmities and chronic illnesses, she is particularly at risk of dire consequences if she is infected with COVID-19. Based on these assertions, Dodd requested compassionate release. (Dkt. #149-1, Ex. A). Dodd also described her release plan, stating that she would live with her parents, who would pay any medical expenses Dodd might incur and ensure that Dodd has transportation to medical facilities for treatment. Id.

Although the warden requested that Dodd resubmit her request "in writing," neither the warden, nor the Government in its briefing to this Court, has provided any explanation or argument as to why Dodd's March 24 request was insufficient under the governing regulation. The Court concludes that Dodd has met section 3582(c)(1)(A) ’s exhaustion requirement because her March 24, 2020 communication to her warden was sufficient under 28 C.F.R. § 571.61, and her motion was filed with this Court on April 24, 2020, after thirty days had elapsed since her request for administrative remedies.

B. Dodd Has Not Met Section 3582(c)(1)(A) ’s Requirements for Sentence Modification.
1. Dodd must meet section 3582(c)(1)(A) ’s requirement that "extraordinary and compelling reasons" exist "consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission," warranting a reduction of her sentence.

Under section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), a district court may grant a sentence reduction if it finds that (1) "extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction," (2) "such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission," and (3) such a reduction is appropriate "after considering the factors set forth in [ 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) ] to the extent that they are applicable." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).

Congress did not define what constitute "extraordinary and compelling" reasons for a sentence reduction under section 3582(c)(1)(A), but rather delegated that authority to the Sentencing Commission. In 28 U.S.C. § 994(a)(2), Congress granted the Commission broad authority to promulgate "general policy statements regarding application of the guidelines or any other aspect of sentencing or sentence implementation that in the view of the Commission would further the purposes set forth in [ 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2) ]." And, as particularly relevant here, in 28 U.S.C. § 994(t) "Congress instructed the Commission to ‘describe what should be considered extraordinary and compelling reasons for sentence reduction [under section 3582(c)(1)(A) ], including the criteria to be applied and a list of specific examples.’ " United States v. Garcia , 655 F.3d 426, 435 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 994(t) ).

The Commission's policy statements, issued under 28 U.S.C. § 994(t), are binding concerning what should be considered extraordinary and compelling reasons for sentence reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). As the Fifth Circuit has explained, "a common sense reading" of section 3582(c)(1)(A) ’s phrase that a sentence reduction must be "consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission," is that, "regardless of whether Congress wanted [the Commission's] policy statements to be binding in the sentencing context, it wished them to be binding in § 3582(c) proceedings." Id. at 435. "If a sentence reduction is inconsistent with a policy statement, it would violate § 3582(c) ’s directive, so policy statements must be binding." Id. ; see also Dillon , 560 U.S. at 827, 130 S.Ct. 2683 (explaining that where 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2) —using the same language as section 3582(c)(1)(A) —permits a sentencing reduction based on a retroactive guidelines amendment only if "such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission," the Commission's pertinent policy statements are binding on courts).

Thus, Dodd cannot obtain a sentence reduction under section 3582(c)(1)(A) merely by asserting reasons that she, or for that matter this Court, might believe are sufficiently "extraordinary and compelling" to justify a sentence reduction. Instead, under the plain text of 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) and 28 U.S.C. § 994(t), as well as controlling precedent, Dodd's proffered reasons must be consistent with the Sentencing Commission's applicable policy statement concerning what should be considered extraordinary and compelling reasons for a sentence reduction under section 3582(c)(1)(A).

2. Dodd...

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