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Prior to the First Step Act, compassionate release was rarely utilized in the federal criminal justice system. Upon the Act’s passage, the federal judiciary took a more significant role in assessing motions for compassionate release. The number of motions for compassionate release swelled as the COVID-19 pandemic became a major public health crisis in the United States, especially in prisons. Many, but not all, federal district courts departed from prior administrative guidelines that were not consistent with the statutory language of the First Step Act. These differing levels of discretion have created an inconsistent patchwork of case law across the federal judiciary. This Note surveys the variety of district court rationales for granting or denying motions for compassionate release. Given the purpose and legislative intent of the First Step Act, this Note argues that district courts should continue to exercise broad discretion to determine whether compassionate release is appropriate. It also argues that future compassionate release administrative guidance should allow courts broad discretion on whether to grant compassionate release, subject to appellate review.


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7 Sep 2022
905 kB



  • Subject
    • Courts

    • Criminal Procedure

    • Law Enforcement and Corrections

  • Journal title
    • Boston College Law Review

  • Volume
    • 62

  • Issue
    • 7

  • Pagination
    • 2463

  • Date submitted

    7 September 2022