United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
RANDAL HALL, CHIEF JUDGE
Angela Willingham seeks relief under the "compassionate
release" provision of 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).
The government opposes the motion. Upon due consideration,
the Court denies Willingham's request for relief.
pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the government, two
counts of misuse of health identifiers to file fraudulent tax
returns, and two counts of aggravated identity theft. On June
18, 2014, she was sentenced to serve a total term of
imprisonment of 170 months. Her convictions and sentence were
affirmed on appeal. Willingham is currently incarcerated at
Coleman Low FCI in Coleman, Florida with an expected release
date of June 2, 2025.
compassionate release provision of § 3582(c)(1)(A)
provides a narrow path for a defendant in "extraordinary
and compelling circumstances" to leave prison early upon
consideration of the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. §
3553(a) so long as such reduction is "consistent with
applicable policy statements issued by the [United States]
Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).
Congress did not define what constitutes "extraordinary
and compelling circumstances" other than to express that
"[rehabilitation of the defendant alone" is
insufficient. See 28 U.S.C. § 994 (t) . Rather,
Congress instructed the Sentencing Commission to promulgate
the "criteria to be applied and a list of specific
examples" of extraordinary and compelling reasons.
existing policy statement of the Sentencing Commission,
adopted before passage of the First Step Act of 2018,
provides that in addition to the existence of extraordinary
and compelling reasons, the defendant must not present a
danger to the safety of any other person or the community.
U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13. The application notes to this policy
statement list three specific examples of extraordinary and
compelling reasons to consider reduction of a defendant's
sentence under § 3582(c)(1)(A): (1) medical condition;
(2) advanced age; and (3) family circumstances. Id.
n. 1(A)-(C). Willingham concedes that she does meet any of
these criteria. The application note also provides a
catch-all category: "As determined by the
Director of the Bureau of Prisons, there exists in
the defendant's case an extraordinary and compelling
reason other than, or in combination with," the
aforementioned three categories. Id. n.l(D)
prior to the First Step Act, § 3582(c) (1) (A) provided
that only the Director of the Bureau of Prisons
("BOP") could bring a motion for compassionate
release. However, Section 603(b) of the First Step Act,
titled "Increasing the Use and Transparency of
Compassionate Release," amended § 3582(c)(1)(A) to
permit a defendant to bring a motion for compassionate
release after either exhausting administrative rights to
appeal the BOP's failure to bring such a motion or the
passage of thirty days from the defendant's unanswered
request to the warden for such relief. 18 U.S.C. §
3582(c)(1)(A). Through her motion, Willingham contends that
the First Step Act also expanded the criteria for
"extraordinary and compelling" circumstances; more
specifically, she contends that the First Step Act now allows
a district court to determine whether extraordinary and
compelling reasons exist outside of the three enumerated
examples in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 and independent of the
contention is not without support. In 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.l. See United States v.
Brown, __F.Supp.3d __, 2019 WL 4942051, *4 (S.D. Iowa
Oct. 8, 2019) (holding that the district court now assumes
the same discretion as the BOP Director when it considers a
compassionate release motion); United States v. Fox,
2019 WL 3046086, at *3 (D. Me. July 11, 2019) ("I treat
the previous BOP discretion to identify other extraordinary
and compelling reasons as assigned now to the courts.");
United States v. Beck, 2019 WL 2716505 (M.D. N.C.
June 28, 2019); United States v. Cantu, 2019 WL
2498923 (S.D. Tex. June 17, 2019). These courts have held
that the policy statement of U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 is simply
outdated because it assumes that compassionate release may
only be granted upon motions by the Director of the BOP.
See, e.g., Beck, 2019 WL 2716505, at *5
("There is no policy statement applicable to motions for
compassionate release filed by defendants under the First
cases, however, rest upon a faulty premise that the First
Step Act somehow rendered the Sentencing Commission's
policy statement an inappropriate expression of policy. This
interpretation, and it appears to be an interpretation
gleaned primarily from the salutary purpose expressed in the
title of Section 603(b) of the First Step Act, contravenes
express Congressional intent that the Sentencing Commission,
not the judiciary, determine what constitutes an appropriate
use of the "compassionate release" provision.
See 28 U.S.C. § 944(t). Indeed, §
3582(c)(1)(A) as amended by the First Step Act still
requires courts to abide by policy statements issued by the
Sentencing Commission. See 18 U.S.C. §
3582(c)(1)(A). Accordingly, this Court will follow the policy
statement in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 and deny Willingham's
motion because she does not meet the specific examples of
extraordinary and compelling reasons and the Director of the
BOP has not determined that circumstances outside of these
examples exist to afford her relief. Accord,
e.g., United States v. Lynn, 2019 WL
3805349, at *4 (S.D. Ala. Aug. 12, 2019) ("If the policy
statement needs tweaking in light of Section 603(b) [of the
First Step Act], that tweaking must be accomplished by the
[Sentencing] Commission, not by the courts.");
United States v. Johns, 2019 WL 2646663 (D. Ariz.
June 28, 2019); United States v. Gross, 2019 WL
2437463 (E.D. Wash. June 11, 2019); United States v.
Heromin, 2019 WL 2411311 (M.D. Fla. June 7, 2019);
United States v. Willis, 2019 WL 2403192 (D.N.M.
June 7, 2019); United States v. Shields, 2019 WL
2359231 (N.D. Calif. June 4, 2019) (stating that there is no
"authority for the proposition that the Court may
disregard guidance provided by the Sentencing Commission
where it appears that such guidance has not kept pace with
even if the Court were to conclude that the First Step Act
granted it the discretion to consider what constitutes
extraordinary and compelling circumstances outside of the
Sentencing Commission's policy statement, Willingham
would not be entitled to relief. Willingham proffers three
reasons that her sentence should be reduced. First, she
expresses that her sentence is too harsh, especially as
compared to that of defendants convicted of violent offenses.
Second, she argues her sentence is extraordinary given the
projected cost of her incarceration. Finally, Willingham
points to her record of rehabilitation as one of an
extraordinary character. The totality of these circumstances
does not even move the needle toward the extraordinary and
compelling circumstances that must exist before the Court
should grant compassionate release. The fact remains that
Willingham was fairly and appropriately sentenced under the
advisory sentencing guidelines, a sentence that was affirmed
by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. This attempt to
relitigate the propriety of her sentence under the auspice of
"compassionate release" falls completely flat.
the foregoing, Defendant Angela Willingham's motion for
compassionate release ...