United States v. Terraciano

Decision Date02 October 2020
Docket NumberNo. 2:17-cr-00187-KJM-2,2:17-cr-00187-KJM-2
Citation492 F.Supp.3d 1082
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Lisa TERRACIANO, Defendant.

Rosanne Rust, Todd A. Pickles, United States Attorney's Office, Sacramento, CA, for Plaintiff.


Kimberly Mueller, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE Defendant Lisa Terraciano moves for compassionate release from incarceration under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). She argues an infection with the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, that has reached the prison would pose an extraordinary risk to her health because of her body mass index (BMI), previous diagnosis of hepatitis C, hypertension and history of smoking. See Mot., ECF No. 86; Suppl. Br., ECF No. 96; Reply, ECF No. 100. The government opposes Terraciano's motion principally on the basis that she has completed only about 20 percent of her total sentence of incarceration for a serious bribery offense; it does not contest that her health conditions place her at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 or that inmates and staff in the prison where Terraciano lives have contracted COVID-19. See generally Opp'n, ECF No. 98. Terraciano's short time served does indeed weigh against her motion, but it does not outweigh the many other considerations that weigh in her favor. As explained in more detail below, the motion is granted.


Terraciano was a technician at the California DMV. See Plea Agreement Ex. A, ECF No. 38. For several years, she accepted bribes in return for excusing testing requirements for commercial driving permits and licenses. See id. After the scheme was uncovered, she was charged with and pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit bribery, identity fraud and unauthorized access to a computer. See Change of Plea Hr'g Minutes, ECF No. 31; Plea Agreement at 2, ECF No. 38. Terraciano was sentenced to 40 months’ imprisonment and a 24-month term of supervised release, which was below the Guidelines range of 57–60 months. See Sentencing Hr'g Minutes, ECF No. 79; Presentence Report ¶ 68, ECF No. 73.

A few months after she began serving her 40-month sentence, Terraciano became concerned that if she contracted COVID-19, she may experience an unusually severe case as a result of her health conditions. See Mot. at 1–2, ECF No. 86. She has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, she has hypertension, her BMI is at the borderline between values that doctors consider "overweight" and "obese," and she has a history of smoking. See Presentence Report ¶ 55, ECF No. 73; Suppl. Br. Ex. B.1 Dr. Catherine Pearson, M.D., who practices internal medicine and is a fellow of infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco, reviewed Terraciano's medical record. Suppl. Br. Ex. C, ECF No. 96-2. Dr. Pearson concluded that Terraciano's hypertension, BMI and history of smoking do increase her risk of hospitalization, treatment in an intensive care unit, invasive life support and even death. Id. at 2. Dr. Pearson has not offered an opinion about Terraciano's hepatitis C diagnosis.

Terraciano is currently assigned to the Federal Correctional Institution in Victorville, California. Opp'n Ex. 1, ECF No. 98-1. Her projected release date is in December 2022, so she has completed about 20 percent of her sentence of incarceration.

See id. According to her counsel,2 she lives in a large cell with more than 90 other inmates and must also work outside that dormitory. Suppl. Br. at 13, ECF No. 96. She and her 90-plus cellmates share the same toilets and showers and line up together for food and medications; it is not possible to practice social distancing in these conditions. Id. ; see also Mot. at 1, ECF No. 86.

Terraciano moves for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c). See Mot., ECF No. 86; Suppl. Br., ECF No. 096; Reply, ECF No. 100. The government opposes her motion. See generally Opp'n, ECF No. 98.


A sentencing court has authority to modify a term of imprisonment under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). Under that statute, as amended by the First Step Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-391, 132 Stat. 5194 (Dec. 21, 2018), the court may grant a defendant's motion to reduce her term of imprisonment, provided the defendant has first satisfied an exhaustion requirement, "after considering the factors set forth in section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable," if "extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction," and if "a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A), 3582(c)(1)(A)(i).

Many years ago—before the First Step Act and before defendants could move to reduce their sentences under § 3582—the Sentencing Commission issued a policy statement addressing what qualifies as "extraordinary and compelling reasons" under § 3582. See U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13. The same Guidelines section also "imposes an additional consideration of whether the defendant is a danger to the safety of any other person or to the community." United States v. Numann , No. 16-00025, 2020 WL 1977117, at *2 (D. Alaska Apr. 24, 2020) (citing U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13(2) ).

Since the First Step Act was passed, district courts have disagreed about whether the Sentencing Commission's statement is binding. Some courts have determined that the statement "no longer fits with the statute," United States v. Cantu , 423 F. Supp. 3d 345, 351 (S.D. Tex. 2019), because it does not account for a defendant's ability to move for compassionate release, see United States v. Allen , No. 17-0229, 2019 WL 6529113, at *2 (E.D. Wash. Dec. 4, 2019) ; see also United States v. Willingham , No. 10-113, 2019 WL 6733028, at *2 (S.D. Ga. Dec. 10. 2019) (noting "[i]n at least four judicial districts, courts have determined that the First Step Act signaled an intent from Congress that district courts may now consider whether extraordinary and compelling reasons for compassionate release exist other than those delineated in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 n.1" (citations omitted)). A strong contingent of decisions issued by district courts within the Ninth Circuit has concluded the Guidelines are no longer limiting and the sentencing court has complete discretion to decide what counts as "extraordinary and compelling" reasons. See, e.g. , United States v. Rodriguez , 424 F.Supp.3d 674, 681 (N.D. Cal. 2019) ("This court follows the growing number of district courts that have concluded that, in the absence of applicable policy statements, courts can determine whether any extraordinary and compelling reasons other than those delineated in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 cmt. n.1(A)-(C) warrant compassionate release." (citation and quotation marks omitted)); United States v. Chan , No. 96-00094, 2020 WL 1527895, at *4–5 (N.D. Cal. March 31, 2020) (noting split in authority and following Rodriguez ); United States v. Parker , 461 F.Supp.3d 966, 977–80(C.D. Cal. 2020) (collecting cases finding U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 is no longer limiting but considering policy statement as guidance).

But many courts in this circuit still turn to section 1B1.13 for "guidance on the ‘extraordinary and compelling reasons’ that may warrant a reduction in sentence." United States v. Esparza , No. 07-00294, 2020 WL 1696084, at *2 n.2 (D. Idaho Apr. 7, 2020), appeal filed , No. 20-30083 (9th Cir. Apr. 8, 2020) (quoting United States v. Gonzalez , 451 F.Supp.3d 1194, 1197 (E.D. Wash. 2020) ); see also Riley v. United States , No. 19-1522, 2020 WL 1819838, at *8 (W.D. Wash. Apr. 10, 2020) ("In the absence of contrary controlling authority, and given the limited statutory exceptions to the general rule of the finality of judgments, this court will continue to follow the guidance of the Sentencing Commission's policy statement limiting the scope of ‘extraordinary and compelling reasons’ that warrant compassionate release under § 3582(c)(1)." (citing Dillon v. United States , 560 U.S. 817, 827, 130 S.Ct. 2683, 177 L.Ed.2d 271 (2010) )), appeal filed , No. 20-35334 (April 13, 2020).

This court has looked to the Sentencing Commission's policy statement as guidance in several previous orders and will do the same here. See, e.g. , United States v. Schweder , No. 11-00449, 2020 WL 5257598, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 3, 2020) ; the court need not decide whether that statement is binding.


The parties do not dispute that Terraciano has exhausted her administrative remedies as required by § 3582(c). See Opp'n at 4, ECF No. 98. The court thus considers (A) whether Terraciano has demonstrated that her motion is supported by extraordinary and compelling reasons and (B) whether applicable sentencing factors of § 3553(a) support her motion.

A. Extraordinary and Compelling Reasons

People living in congregate living situations are vulnerable to coronavirus because the virus is highly contagious in closed environments. See Interim Guidance on Management of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Correctional and Detention Facilities, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 22, 2020).3 The combination of custody, housing, education, recreation, healthcare, food service, and workplace environments within one physical setting makes for unique challenges in controlling the spread of coronavirus. See id. The Bureau of Prisons has "taken steps to try to protect inmates’ and employees’ health" and keep COVID-19 from its facilities, but it has "not been immune from the COVID-19 pandemic." Opp'n at 4–5, ECF No. 98. Thousands of inmates and staff have tested positive for COVID-19, and although thousands have recovered, more than 100 have died. Id. at 5.

In the Victorville facility where Terraciano is housed, 17 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, and these numbers appear to be increasing in recent days.4

This court has also expressed concerns "about the government's methods for tabulating the numbers of inmates infected versus those recovered"; reported...

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