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United States v. Roberts

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York

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

18-CR-528-5 (JMF)



JESSE M. FURMAN, United States District Judge:

On April 2, 2020, the Defendant in this case, Adrienne Roberts, joined a growing chorus of defendants seeking compassionate [*2]  release before a COVID-19 outbreak in their jail or prison puts their lives at risk. See ECF Nos. 287, 289 ("Def.'s Mem."). The Court shares her concerns. She is HIV-positive and, thus, may have a heightened risk of death in the event that she contracts COVID-19. And, as an inmate in the Metropolitan Correctional Center ("MCC"), a dense urban jail in which several inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, she faces a particularly grave danger of contracting the disease. See Interim Guidance on Management of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Correctional and Detention Facilities, Ctr. for Disease Control, at 2 (Mar. 23, 2020), available at Unfortunately, as compelling as Ms. Roberts's plea for help may be, the Court lacks authority to order the relief she seeks under the compassionate release statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). Accordingly, and for the reasons stated below, her motion must be and is denied. At the same time, the Court urges the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") to consider whether to grant Ms. Roberts temporary release pursuant to the furlough statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3622, as doing so may reduce her risks while ensuring that she serves her full sentence.


It is well established [*3]  that "[a] court may not modify a term of imprisonment once it has been imposed except pursuant to statute." United States v. Gotti, No. 02-CR-743-07 (CM),     F. Supp. 3d    , 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8612, 2020 WL 497987, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 15, 2020). Section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), the compassionate release statute, is one such exception: It permits a court to "reduce" a term of imprisonment, after considering the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), if "it finds that . . . extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction . . . and that such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i). By the statute's plain terms, however, a court may do so only "upon motion of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons" or "upon a motion of the defendant after the defendant has fully exhausted all administrative rights to appeal a failure of the Bureau of Prisons to bring a motion on the defendant's behalf or the lapse of 30 days from the receipt of such a request by the warden of the defendant's facility, whichever is earlier." Id. No such motion has been made by the BOP Director, and Ms. Roberts concedes that she has not yet satisfied the requirements for bringing a motion on her own. See Def.'s Mem. 5. And although the Government has taken the view that the requirements can be waived, see United States v. Gentille, No. 19-CR-590-1 (KPF), ECF No. 31 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 6, 2020)  [*4] (noting the Government's position that the requirement is not jurisdictional, but is "mandatory unless waived by the Government"), and has exercised its discretion to waive them in other cases based on the threat of COVID-19, see, e.g., United States v. Jasper, No. 18-CR-390-18 (PAE), 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60588, ECF No. 440 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 6, 2020), it has — for whatever reason — elected not to do so here.

Ms. Roberts argues that the Court may disregard the express exhaustion requirement in light of COVID-19, even without a waiver by the Government. See Def.'s Mem. 5; ECF No. 292 ("Def.'s Supp."), at 2-6. Courts do have some flexibility to disregard exhaustion requirements when they are judicially imposed. See Washington v. Barr, 925 F.3d 109, 115-19 (2d Cir. 2019) (imposing an exhaustion requirement as a "prudential rule of judicial administration," subject to "broad" exceptions (internal quotation marks omitted)); Maxwell v. N.Y. Univ., 407 F. App'x 524, 527 (2d Cir. 2010) (summary order) ("Where a statute does not explicitly require exhaustion, we must exercise discretion and balance the interest of the individual in retaining prompt access to a federal judicial forum against countervailing institutional interests favoring exhaustion." (internal quotation marks [*5]  omitted)). As the Supreme Court has emphasized, however, "a statutory exhaustion provision stands on different footing." Ross v. Blake, 136 S. Ct. 1850, 1857, 195 L. Ed. 2d 117 (2016). In particular, statutory exhaustion requirements, such as those set forth in Section 3582(c), must be "strictly" enforced. United States v. Monzon, No. 99-CR-157 (DLC), 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20566, 2020 WL 550220, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 4, 2020); United States v. Raia, No. 20-1033,     F.3d    , 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 10582, 2020 WL 1647922, at *2 (3d Cir. Apr. 2, 2020) (describing the failure to exhaust as a "glaring roadblock foreclosing compassionate release at this point"). Moreover, in the case of Section 3582(c), the statute itself includes a limited futility-like exception, as it allows an inmate to seek relief "after . . . the lapse of 30 days from the receipt of such a request by the warden of the defendant's facility." 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). Given Congress's decision to mandate exhaustion and to specify a single alternative, the Court is not free to infer a general "unwritten 'special circumstances' exception." See Ross, 136 S. Ct. at 1856, 1862 (holding that the Prison Litigation Reform Act's "mandatory language means a court may not excuse a failure to exhaust, even to take [special] circumstances into account").

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2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62318 *


Prior History: United States v. Roberts, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59593 (S.D.N.Y., Apr. 3, 2020)


sentence, compassionate, exhaustion, Prisons, furlough, inmates, temporary release, term of imprisonment, required to exhaust, circumstances, courts