In federal court, many people who are accused of crimes face very steep sentences. Those steep penalties give federal prosecutors plenty of leverage when it comes to obtaining guilty pleas. But now, some federal prosecutors are even taking things a step further, by placing a condition in plea agreements that prohibits defendants from seeking a reduction in their sentence, even when asking for Compassionate Release. Compassionate release is a mechanism under federal law, which allows a judge to reduce an inmate’s sentence, under limited circumstances. Most recently, the First Step Act, expanded programs that allow for compassionate release and home confinement. Despite this expansion, compassionate releases are still rare, and federal prosecutors often vigorously oppose them. But now, some federal prosecutors are seeking to insert limitations to seeking compassionate release in to their plea agreements. This type of plea agreement was recently rejected by a district judge in northern California, who called such provisions “inhumane”. In view of the flood of compassionate release motions, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we may very well see more attempts by federal prosecutors to limit such filings. Criminal defense lawyers should be on the look out for this important issue, and be prepared to fight hard against it.
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