Federal Court Grants Zuckerman Spaeder Client Release 48 Hours After ZS Motion, Before the Government Could File Its Opposition
Zuckerman Spaeder Associate Avery Pollard and Partner Rachel Cotton teamed up on a pro bono effort that resulted in a federal court granting compassionate release to an elderly inmate before the government had a chance to file its opposition. Pollard also successfully negotiated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to cancel a detainer that would have placed the client in ICE custody after his release from federal prison.
The release granted on April 29, approximately 48 hours after ZS filed its motion on April 27, is particularly important because prison officials improperly denied the client’s prior request for compassionate release due to his immigration status. The 71-year-old client had served nearly 20 years of a 24-year drug-related sentence, and has multiple serious health conditions, including prostate cancer, a pulmonary embolism, diabetes with two related eye surgeries, chronic kidney disease, asthma, and hypertension. Nearly two years ago, his deteriorating health led him to request compassionate release from the prison, but he was inaccurately told he was ineligible because he is not a U.S. citizen.
After taking on his case in April, Pollard and Cotton argued to the District Court for the Northern District of Florida that the client’s age, health conditions, and the outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the prison constituted “extraordinary and compelling reasons” warranting compassionate release.
While the government opposed the release, the court declined to give prosecutors a chance to respond. Instead, it ordered the client’s release just 48 hours after Pollard and Cotton’s motion, stating that it was warranted based on the “Defendant’s proximity to his release date, the relative lack of violence in his criminal record, his exemplary conduct in prison, his age and diminished health, and the ongoing threat posed to him by the COVID-19 pandemic…” The client was eligible for release in April 2021.
Although the client had an active ICE detainer that called for sending him into ICE detention following his release, Pollard successfully advocated for ICE to lift the detainer.
“We are relieved that the court, recognizing that our client was in grave danger, did not wait to hear the government’s untenable position before ordering our client’s release,” said Pollard. Cotton commented, “Now, rather than facing potential death in federal prison or ICE custody, our client is reunited with his daughter at home.”
An attorney with FAMM called the case “a long shot” and, after Zuckerman Spaeder’s successful effort, said she was “astonished and grateful.”
Marcos Hasbun, Casey Jonas, Scott Hanna, Kimberley Wilson, Bobbi Camp, and Vivian Cartagena assisted Pollard and Cotton in this representation.
This compassionate release representation is one of ten that the firm has taken on since last summer and part of the firm’s long-standing dedication to community service and pro bono representation. With respect to compassionate release, the firm takes referrals from the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse, a collaboration of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and FAMM. For more information about the Clearinghouse, visit www.FAMM.org.