United States v. Ezell

Decision Date11 February 2021
Docket NumberCRIMINAL ACTION NO. 02-815-01
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Jeffery Whitt, Joan E. Burnes, U.S. Attorney's Office, Philadelphia, PA, for United States.

Christopher D. Warren, Feldman and Pinto, Philadelphia, PA, for Jamal Ezell.

Jamal Ezell, Philadelphia, PA, pro se.


DuBois, District Judge


Moving for a reduced sentence pursuant to the compassionate release statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), Jamal Ezell, an inmate at USP Lewisburg, contends that the unduly harsh nature of his sentence and several other factors related to his rehabilitation and readiness to reenter society present "extraordinary and compelling reasons" meriting a sentence reduction. Presently before the Court is Ezell's pro se Motion for Compassionate Release Under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) (Document No. 268, filed May 26, 2020) ("Pro Se Motion"), superseded by a counseled Amended Motion to Reduce Sentence Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) (Document No. 283, filed September 7, 2020) ("Amended Motion"). For the reasons set forth below, the Amended Motion is granted and the Pro Se Motion is denied as moot. Ezell's sentence is reduced to time served, approximately 22 years after adjustment for good time credit.


The history of this case is set forth in detail in the Court's Memorandum dated August 18, 2015. It will be summarized in this memorandum only as necessary to resolve the pending Motion.

A. Ezell's Underlying Offenses and 132-Year Sentence

In March 2002, when Ezell was 22 years old, he and several companions robbed six commercial establishments at gunpoint in three counties in and around Philadelphia. Ezell asserts, and the Government does not dispute, that "[n]obody was seriously injured during these offenses, and the total amount stolen was $14,927.84." Am. Mot., 3.

On December 17, 2002, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania returned a twelve-count Indictment against Ezell, charging him with six counts of Hobbs Act robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, aiding and abetting in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2, six counts of carrying and using a firearm during a crime of violence, and aiding and abetting in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 924(c) and (2). Prior to trial, the Government offered Ezell a plea agreement which provided for, inter alia , a 32-year term of imprisonment without a requirement of cooperation. Ezell declined the offer and elected to proceed to trial. At trial, in 2005, the jury found Ezell guilty on all counts.

On March 3, 2006, the Court sentenced Ezell to, inter alia , 132 years imprisonment on the six § 924(c) counts and one day of imprisonment on the six counts of Hobbs Act robbery. At that time a first conviction under § 924(c) for carrying and using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence required, inter alia , a mandatory consecutive sentence of at least five years imprisonment on the first count, increased to at least seven years imprisonment if the defendant "brandished" the firearm. Second or successive § 924(c) convictions required consecutive sentences of at least 25 years imprisonment at that time, a practice known as "stacking." Applicable law in 2005 also treated a conviction as "second or subsequent," triggering a consecutive 25-year mandatory minimum, even if the first § 924(c) conviction was in the same case. See Deal v. United States , 508 U.S. 129, 132, 113 S.Ct. 1993, 124 L.Ed.2d 44 (1993).

On the first § 924(c) count, the Court sentenced Ezell to a term of imprisonment of seven years because it determined that he "brandished" a firearm during the commission of the offense. With respect to the second through sixth § 924(c) counts, the Court determined that, because of the first § 924(c) conviction, it was required under the statute to sentence Ezell to a "stacked" term of imprisonment of 25 years for each subsequent § 924(c) conviction. Thus, under the statute, the Court sentenced Ezell to 132 years imprisonment on the six § 924(c) convictions. Finding this mandatory term grossly excessive, the Court sentenced Ezell to one day imprisonment on the six Hobbs Act robbery convictions.

In its Memorandum on sentencing dated March 3, 2006, the Court expressed concern over the unduly harsh nature of Ezell's sentence, stating, "sentencing Mr. Ezell to prison for longer than the remainder of his life is far in excess of what is required to accomplish all of the goals of sentencing." United States v. Ezell , 417 F. Supp. 2d 667, 671 (E.D. Pa. 2006), aff'd 265 F. App'x 70 (3d Cir. 2008). However, the Court "reluctantly conclude[d]" that Ezell had presented no grounds for reducing the 132-year mandatory sentence and that it was bound by law to impose the sentence. Id. at 672.

On September 17, 2013, Ezell's former counsel filed Counsel's Amended Motion Pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (Document No. 225). Ezell argued in that motion that he was denied effective assistance of counsel at several critical points in his trial, and thus his Sixth Amendment rights were violated. By Memorandum and Order dated August 19, 2015, the Court denied the Amended § 2255 Motion, but reiterated its regret "that such an unduly harsh sentence was the minimum required by law." United States v. Ezell , 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109814, at *34 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 19, 2015). Referencing United States v. Holloway , the Court called on the Government to exercise prosecutorial discretion to vacate a number of Ezell's § 924(c) convictions through a joint motion of the parties. 68 F. Supp.3d 310, 314 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (prosecutor agreed to vacate two of the three § 924(c) convictions so that Holloway could face a "more just resentencing"). Absent such a motion, the Court said it "remain[ed] powerless under the law to ensure that justice [was] done." Ezell , 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109814, at *39. The Government subsequently offered to reduce Ezell's sentence from 132 years to 45 years, but Ezell rejected this offer.

B. Procedural Background

"On December 23, 2019, Ezell submitted a written request to the Warden at USP Lewisburg asking that the Bureau of Prisons (‘BOP’) move this Court for a reduction of Ezell's sentence under 18 U.S.C. 3582(c)(1)(A)(i)." Am. Mot., 2. The Warden denied Ezell's request and Ezell appealed. The BOP did not respond. See Pro Se Mot., 6. On June 22, 2020, defense counsel began representing Ezell and thereafter submitted to the Warden at USP Lewisburg an updated request for compassionate release on Ezell's behalf. Id. , 3. The Warden has not responded to that request. Id.

Ezell filed a pro se Motion for Compassionate Release Under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) on May 26, 2020 (Document No. 268). The Government responded on July 21, 2020. (Document No. 280). On September 7, 2020, Ezell filed a counseled Amended Motion to Reduce Sentence Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) (Document No. 283). The Government responded on September 25, 2020 (Document No. 284). Ezell filed a reply on October 9, 2020 (Document No. 285).1 Oral argument was held on January 8, 2021. The Motion is now ripe for decision.

A. Applicable Law

Ezell seeks compassionate release pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), as amended by the First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 (2018). Prior to the First Step Act, courts could consider compassionate release only upon motion of the BOP. See 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) (2012). However, the First Step Act granted federal prisoners the right to petition a court for compassionate release for "extraordinary and compelling reasons" after first filing a request for compassionate release with the prison warden. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i). Generally, "extraordinary" means "[b]eyond what is usual, customary, regular, or common," and a "compelling need" is a "need so great that irreparable harm or injustice would result if it is not met." United States v. Rodriguez , 451 F.Supp.3d 392, 401 (E.D. Pa. 2020) (quoting Extraordinary , Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)). A sentence reduction under § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i) must be consistent with "applicable policy statements" issued by the Sentencing Commission. Id.

"Extraordinary and compelling reasons," for purposes of § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), are defined by a policy statement in § 1B1.13 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which cites the (A) medical condition, (B) age, (C) family circumstances of the defendant, and, (D) "reason[s] other than, or in combination with, the reasons described in subdivisions (A) through (C)," as determined by the BOP. U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 cmt. n.1(A)-(D). This policy statement, which was adopted before the First Step Act, does not account for the fact that defendants may now file their own motions for compassionate release.2 Thus, as a majority of district courts and all of the courts of appeals that have spoken on the issue have held, § 1B1.13 is not an "applicable policy statement" in the context of defendant-filed motions.3 See United States v. McCoy , 981 F.3d 271, 281 (4th Cir. 2020) ("join[ing] three other federal courts of appeals that recently have considered this question"); United States v. Pollard , No. CR 10-633-1, 2020 WL 4674126, at *5 n.5 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 12, 2020) (collecting district court cases). Based on this authority, the Court concludes that when a defendant files a motion for compassionate release on his own behalf—as Ezell has done in this case—a district court may exercise its discretion to define "extraordinary and compelling reasons." A court must also "consider[ ] the factors set forth in section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable" and evaluate whether the defendant poses a danger to the community. §§ 3582(c)(1)(A) and 3142(g).

B. Ezell's Amended Motion4
i. Ezell's Unduly Harsh Sentence

Ezell characterizes his mandatory § 924(c) sentence as "indefensibly harsh" and contends that the nature of his sentence constitutes an...

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    ...whether a defendant is serving ‘an unusually long sentence’ when ruling on a motion for a sentence reduction. United States v. Ezell , 518 F.Supp.3d 851, 858, (E.D. Pa. 2021) (citing Brooker , 976 F.3d at 238 (quoting S. Rep. No. 98-225, at 55-56 (1984)) (identifying "unusual cases" in whic......
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