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United States v. Hernandez

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York

April 1, 2020, Decided; April 2, 2020, Filed

18 Cr. 834-04 (PAE)

Opinion

OPINION & ORDER

PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, District Judge:

The Court has received a request from defense counsel seeking compassionate release, pursuant [*2]  to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c), for defendant Daniel Hernandez, in light of the heightened risk that the COVID-19 pandemic presents for him. Dkt. 445. The Government does not oppose this request. Dkt. 448.

As background, Hernandez has been in prison since November 2018. He was sentenced on December 18, 2019, to, inter alia, a 24-month term of imprisonment. The Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") has calculated that, with credit for good behavior, Mr. Hernandez's prison term will end approximately August 1, 2020.

On March 22, 2020, defense counsel first sought a modification of Mr. Hernandez's sentence on grounds relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dkt. 437. Counsel asked the Court to modify Mr. Hernandez's sentence to enable him serve the remaining four-plus months of his prison term in home confinement. Id. at 1. Counsel explained that doing so would reduce the risk that Mr. Hernandez, who suffers from asthma, would contract COVID-19 while in prison. See id. at 1-2.

On March 25, 2020, the Court issued an order denying Mr. Hernandez's application for release, solely on the ground that the Court then lacked legal authority to modify his sentence. Dkt. 440. The Court noted that the sources of authority that courts (including this Court) have [*3]  recently invoked to release from custody prisoners with heightened health risks from COVID-19 who have not yet been sentenced are not available in Mr. Hernandez's case, because he has already been sentenced. Id. at 1. Further, the Court noted, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35, which permits modification of a prison sentence under specified circumstances, does not apply to Mr. Hernandez's case. Id. at 2. Neither does 18 U.S.C. § 3622(a), which allows the BOP, not the Court, to grant temporary release in defined circumstances. Id. Relevant here, the Court also identified as a potential source of authority to order a prisoner's early release the compassionate release statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c), but concluded that it, too, did not apply, because the statute permits a court to reduce a prisoner's sentence only after he or she has exhausted his or her remedies through the BOP. Id. As of that date, Mr. Hernandez had not sought any relief through the BOP, let alone exhausted his administrative remedies. See id. at 2.

Although constrained to deny Mr. Hernandez's motion, the Court, in its March 25, 2020 order, did, however, communicate to the BOP--as the entity with authority to reduce Mr. Hernandez's sentence--that a sentence reduction was clearly merited given the risk to Mr. Hernandez's [*4]  health presented by his continued incarceration: The Court wrote:

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2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58739 *

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, -v- DANIEL HERNANDEZ, Defendant.

Prior History: United States v. Mack, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4280 (S.D.N.Y., Jan. 10, 2020)

CORE TERMS

sentence, compassionate, confinement, exhausted, reduction, factors, prison, circumstances, pandemic, custody, compelling reason, heightened risk, remedies, asthma