United States v. Edwards, CR. 19-00038 JMS (02)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Hawaii)
Writing for the CourtJ. Michael Seabright United States District Judge
PartiesUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. MELANIE EDWARDS (02), Defendant.
Docket NumberCR. 19-00038 JMS (02)
Decision Date28 December 2022


MELANIE EDWARDS (02), Defendant.

CR. No. 19-00038 JMS (02)

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 28, 2022


J. Michael Seabright United States District Judge


Before the court is Defendant Melanie Edwards' (“Defendant”) “Second Motion to Reduce Sentence Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i)” filed on October 25, 2022, ECF No. 113 (“Motion to Reduce Sentence”).[1]Defendant claims that her serious medical conditions, to which the COVID-19 vaccine is purportedly contraindicated, constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons justifying reduction of her sentence. Defendant's health conditions, while serious, are not extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting the requested relief at this time. Moreover, the court's analysis of the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)


factors favors continued incarceration. Accordingly, for the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion to Reduce Sentence, ECF No. 113, is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.


Defendant is 64-years old and located at Federal Correctional Institution Victorville Medium I (“VIM”), with a projected release date of November 7, 2024. See Find an Inmate, https://www.bop.gov/inmateloc/ (last visited December 28, 2022).

On February 7, 2020, the court sentenced Defendant to 30 months imprisonment, three years of supervised release, $5,223,268.69 restitution, and a $100 special assessment. ECF No. 53. After numerous extensions due to health complications and the COVID-19 pandemic, Defendant did not self-surrender until September 23, 2022. See ECF No. 113 at PageID.812; see also, e.g., ECF Nos. 79, 98, 100, 104, 107. Once at VIM, Defendant immediately requested a reduced sentence based on her medical conditions. See ECF No. 113-1. After serving only one month, on October 25, 2022, Defendant filed the instant Motion to Reduce Sentence. ECF No. 113. The government filed its response on November 15, 2022. ECF No. 118. Defendant filed a Reply on November 30, 2022. ECF No. 119. Defendant filed additional exhibits in support on December 14, 2022. ECF Nos. 124, 127. The government filed a Supplemental Memorandum in Opposition


on December 15, 2022. ECF No. 128. In the interim, on November 16, 2022, the warden denied Defendant's September 23, 2022 request.[2] ECF No. 128-1.

Defendant asserts that her medical conditions constitute extraordinary and compelling circumstances warranting a reduced sentence to time served and immediate release to home confinement as a condition of supervised release. ECF No. 113 at PageID.811. Defendant suffers from idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (“ITP”),[3] anxiety and depression, carotid stenosis, stage 3 chronic kidney disease, chronic fatigue, coronary artery disease, fibromyalgia, hypertension, heart palpitations, morbid obesity, and sleep apnea. Id. at PageID.813; see also ECF No. 117 (medical records). There is no dispute that Defendant has satisfied the administrative exhaustion requirement under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). See ECF No. 118 at PageID.911. The court decides the Motion to Reduce Sentence without a hearing pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(c).



A. Legal Standard

Ordinarily, “a federal court ‘may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed.'” United States v. Wright, 46 F.4th 938, 944 (9th Cir. 2022) (quoting United States v. Keller, 2 F.4th 1278, 1281 (9th Cir. 2021), and 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)). Congress created a limited exception for modifying the sentence of a federal inmate who files a motion for “compassionate release” satisfying the substantive and procedural requirements of 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). See Wright, 46 F.4th at 944. Section 3582(c)(1)(A), as amended by the First Step Act of 2018 (“FSA”), provides in relevant part:

[T]he court, upon motion of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, or upon motion of the defendant after the defendant has fully exhausted all administrative rights to appeal a failure of the Bureau of Prisons to bring a motion on the defendant's behalf or the lapse of 30 days from the receipt of such a request by the warden of the defendant's facility, whichever is earlier, may reduce the term of imprisonment . . . after considering the factors set forth in [18 U.S.C.] section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, if it finds that-
(i) extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction
and that such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission[.]

“As compassionate release derogates from the principle of finality, it is a ‘narrow' remedy . . . and the court's disposition of a compassionate release motion ‘is discretionary, not mandatory[.]'” Wright, 46 F.4th at 944-45 (internal citations omitted). And although the court must consider “extraordinary and compelling” reasons, the applicable policy statements by the Sentencing Commission, and § 3553(a) factors, it may deny compassionate release on any of these bases:

First, the district court must determine whether “extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant” a sentence reduction. Second, the court must evaluate whether a reduction would be “consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.” Third, the court must consider and weigh the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) to decide whether the requested sentence reduction is warranted “under the particular circumstances of the case.” Although a district court must conclude that a defendant satisfies all three predicates before granting a motion for compassionate release, it may deny compassionate release if a defendant fails to satisfy any of these grounds.

Id. at 945 (internal citations and footnote omitted).

Although § 3582(c)(1)(A) requires a sentence reduction to be “consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the [United States] Sentencing Commission,” that requirement does not apply to this case, as there is currently no policy statement from the Sentencing Commission that is “applicable” to compassionate release motions filed by a defendant rather than by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) Director. See Wright, 46 F.4th at 946. Specifically,


the Sentencing Commission's policy statement, United States Sentencing Guideline (“Guideline”) § 1B1.13, was promulgated before the FSA provided criminal defendants the ability to file motions for compassionate release on their own behalf. See United States v. Aruda, 993 F.3d 797, 800 (9th Cir. 2021) (per curiam). The Sentencing Commission has not amended the Guidelines post-FSA. Id. at 800 n.1. This court is thus empowered to consider any extraordinary and compelling reason that warrants a sentence reduction. See id. at 801-02. In making this determination, “[t]he Sentencing Commission's statements in [§ 1B1.13] may inform a district court's discretion for § 3582(c)(1)(A) motions filed by a defendant, but they are not binding.” Id. at 802.

The Ninth Circuit in Keller, after Aruda, further clarified the scope of the district court's discretion, holding that a district court may deny a compassionate release motion solely based on defendant's failure to show an “extraordinary and compelling” reason for release. “[A] district court that properly denies compassionate release need not evaluate each step” in the “sequential step-by-step analysis” required by 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). Keller, 2 F.4th at 1284. “Such a reading is compelled by the structure of the compassionate release statute, which treats its requirements as conjunctive.” Wright, 46 F.4th at 947 (citing Keller, 2 F.4th at 1284). “This structure necessarily dictates that a court may deny


compassionate release at any stage of the § 3582(c)(1)(A) pipeline.” Id. (emphasis added).

B. Extraordinary and Compelling Reasons

Defendant bears the burden of establishing extraordinary and compelling reasons warranting compassionate release. See Wright, 46 F.4th at 951; United States v. Bogema, 2020 WL 6150467, at *3 (D. Haw. Oct. 20, 2020). At this juncture, Defendant has not done so.

Defendant's healthcare provider, Kristine Carter, NP, advised in a July 2021 letter that Defendant's numerous health problems “keeps her in a very vulnerable state” and that “[i]f she were to contract COVID19 it would most likely be fatal.” ECF No. 117-1 at PageID.855. Nurse Carter's view was that Defendant's health status “also precludes her from receiving the current vaccines for COVID19.” Id. Four months later, Nurse Carter commented in a November 2021 office visit note that she “discussed the importance of COVID-19 vaccine” with Defendant, Id. at PageID.875. Nonetheless, Defendant refused the vaccine when offered by the BOP one year later in November 2022 because she had “been advised by [her] Dr. due to ITP not to have vaccine.” ECF No. 118-3.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal inmates have filed compassionate release motions grounded on a perceived risk of contracting severe illness while incarcerated. The COVID-19 pandemic alone, however, does not


constitute an extraordinary and compelling reason for release. See, e.g., United States v. Drummondo-Farias, 460 F.Supp.3d 1008, 1014 (D. Haw. 2020) (explaining that “‘[g]eneral concerns about possible exposure to COVID-19 does not meet the criteria for extraordinary and compelling reasons for a reduction in sentence set forth in the Sentencing Commission's policy statement” (quoting United States v. Eberhart, 448 F.Supp.3d 1086, 1090 (N.D. Cal. 2020)); see also United States v. Brooks, 491 F.Supp.3d 33, 37 (W.D. Pa. 2020); United States v. Mitchell, 471 F.Supp.3d 1130, 1138 (W.D. Wash. 2020).

Despite inmates' legitimate concerns, “the mere existence of COVID-19 in society and the possibility that...

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