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United States v. Jemal

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

April 8, 2020, Decided; April 8, 2020, Filed

CRIMINAL ACTION No. 15-570

Opinion

MEMORANDUM

Padova, J.

Defendant Stephen Jemal has filed an "Amended Motion for Compassionate Release Under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)," arguing, inter alia, that the COVID-19 pandemic has reached the Federal Correctional Institution at Otisville ("FCI-Otisville") where he is incarcerated and that, as a 64-year-old man with a pre-existing medical condition, he is at serious risk of dying in prison if infected. The Government opposes Defendant's Motion on the grounds that he has not exhausted his statutory administrative remedies. For the following reasons, we defer ruling on Defendant's Motion for an additional four days to permit the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") the opportunity to process and act on Defendant's pending administrative request that the BOP file a motion for compassionate release on his behalf.

I. BACKGROUND

We sentenced Defendant, a non-violent first-time offender, on June 18, [*2]  2019, to an 18-month term of imprisonment and five years of supervised release following his guilty plea to three counts of bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344. He began serving his sentence at FCI-Otisville on July 22, 2019. On April 7, 2020, the Bureau of Prisons website reported that, as of 3:00 p.m. that day, two inmates and three staff members at FCI-Otisville had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. See https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/ (accessed Apr. 7, 2020).

Although Defendant's projected release date is October 31, 2020, the BOP's Individualized Reentry Plan for Defendant indicates that, pursuant to the elderly offender component of the First Step Act, Defendant is eligible to be released to home confinement on July 22, 2020. (See Def.'s Ex A at 1, 4.) Defendant contends that he suffers from a pre-existing condition of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease ("COPD") and in support of that assertion, he submits evidence that, on December 10, 2014, he underwent an x-ray that showed "[h]yperaeration of lungs and flattening of diaphragms . . . suggestive of COPD." (Def.'s Ex. E at 2.) Defendant has also submitted an affidavit from Dr. Brie Williams, a physician in California, who provides [*3]  general information in support of "any defendant seeking release from custody during the COVID-19 pandemic." (Def.'s Ex. D ¶ 4.) Dr. Williams states that "[b]ecause inmates live in close quarters, there is an extraordinarily high risk of accelerated transmission of COVID-19 within jails and prisons." (Id. ¶ 7.) She further opines that "the risk of coronavirus to incarcerated seniors is high," as is the risk to "individuals with at least one chronic condition." (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) She recounts that the World Health Organization has warned that "prisons around the world can expect 'huge mortality rates' from Covid-19 unless they take immediate action" and explains that "[j]ails and prisons are fundamentally ill-equipped to handle a pandemic." (Id. ¶ 14, 16.)

Defendant filed his Amended Motion for Compassionate Release pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) on March 31, 2020. He asks that his sentence be either reduced to time-served or, in the alternative, modified to permit him to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement. Shortly before filing his Amended Motion, on March 29,2020, Defendant submitted an administrative relief request to the Warden at FCI-Otisville, requesting that the BOP file a motion [*4]  for compassionate release on his behalf, and arguing, as he does in his Amended Motion, that extraordinary and compelling circumstances support his request for a sentence modification. (See Def.'s Ex. B.). After a conference call with counsel for both Defendant and the Government on April 3, 2020, we directed the Government to reach out to the BOP to ascertain the status of Defendant's administrative relief request. On April 6, 2020, the Government submitted a letter in which it stated that the Warden at FCI-Otisville had received Defendant's request and that "[n]o assurance may be made regarding exactly how much time review will take, as the depth of review varies depending on the circumstances of the inmate even in ordinary times," but that Defendant's request would "be considered with all possible dispatch." (Docket No. 91.)

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2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62205 *

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. STEPHEN JEMAL

Prior History: United States v. Jemal, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69050 (E.D. Pa., Apr. 24, 2018)

CORE TERMS

BOP, compassionate, Prisons, required to exhaust, futility, sentence, inmates, exhausted, pandemic, defense motion, circumstances