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Compassionate Release

What Is Compassionate Release?

Compassionate release, as its name indicates, is a form of post-conviction relief based more on “compassionate” than “legal” grounds. Or, as those in the legal community might define it, it is an “equitable” rather than “legal” remedy. Essentially, the idea is we’re not challenging the validity of the conviction. Instead, a compassionate release motion says something like “we accept the punishment, we would just like the court to consider a lesser punishment due to our medical condition and our demonstrated rehabilitation while incarcerated.” 

The standard for prevailing on a compassionate release motion is twofold. First, an inmate must demonstrate “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for relief. If that bar is cleared, the inmate must then demonstrate that the sentencing factors weight in favor of early release

Historically, “extraordinary and compelling reasons” for relief were limited to those who were terminally ill. After the onset of COVID, however, attorneys began advocating for inmates on the grounds that being in a federal prison facility was itself an “extraordinary and compelling” reason for relief. While that basis for a compassionate release motion is dwindling, there have since been other areas where courts have found that sentences present “extraordinary and compelling” reasons for relief.