United States of America, United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, 28 March 2022, No. 18-578-01 (KM)
Deciding body (English)
Type of body
Type of Court (material scope)
Type of jurisdiction
Type of Court (territorial scope)
Outcome of the decision
The Defendant, an inmate at FCI Fort Dix, was serving a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. He was moved for compassionate release pursuant to the First Step Act, which primarily cited the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting danger to himself while incarcerated.
He argued that the COVID measures had curtailed certain incentive-based programs, through which he could shorten his sentence. The Court reasoned that once a term of imprisonment had been imposed, the Court may modify it only under very limited circumstances. It concluded that the Defendant was at no extraordinary risk, refused to be vaccinated against COVID, infection rates were currently zero at his institution, and that incentive programs had been limited but were not eliminated. Therefore, the Court denied the motion.
Facts of the case
The Defendant was the head of a drug trafficking organization and pleaded guilty to allegations that he had conspired to distribute and possess, with the intent to distribute, at least one kilogram of heroin, 28 grams of cocaine base, and 40 grams of fentanyl, and to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to an imprisonment of 300 months and his estimated date of release was March 17, 2030.
He was approximately 43 years old and will be well under age 65 at his estimated release date. Possible risk factors suggested by health records were obesity and hypertension. The r ecords demonstrated that the defendant had been receiving regular, appropriate medical care.
The Defendant was offered the Moderna vaccine in March 2021 and was again offered the Pfizer vaccine in August 2021. On both occasions he refused to be vaccinated.
Type of measure challenged
Measures, actions, remedies claimed
Individual / collective enforcement
Nature of the parties
Type of procedure
Reasoning of the deciding body
The Court analyzed the request for compassionate release and reasoned that in order to succeed the Defendant must meet the exhaustion requirement, which requires either that the defendant has exhausted all administrative remedies, or that, since the submission of a request to the warden, 30 days had passed without a decision being rendered. The Defendant stated that he had made an administrative request for relief in May, 2021. Records obtained by the government did not reflect any such request and the Defendant did not make a reply to the government's argument. For this reason alone, the Court argued that relief must be denied.
The Court also stated that any assessment of extraordinary circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic must include: a) the likelihood that a COVID infection would have severe consequences for the particular person; and b) the more general danger of infection at the institution where the person was incarcerated. The Court reasoned that the chronic health conditions the Defendant presented were common and not at all extraordinary and that the Courts have routinely denied compassionate release based on such conditions. It also stated that a vaccine had been offered to the Defendant but was refused.
Regarding the claim that COVID-related restrictions resulted in his inability to participate in certain incentive programs, the Court argued that access to such programs may have been suspended or delayed, but had not been denied.
Conclusions of the deciding body
The Court denied the Defendants’ motion for compassionate release.
Fundamental Right(s) involved
Rights and freedoms specifically identified as (possibly) conflicting with the right to health
Balancing techniques and principles (proportionality, reasonableness, others)
The Court did not use balancing techniques, but based the decision on procedural law and case law.