Compassionate Release in Prisons: A Moot Point After COVID-19 Infection

Author: Noelle Daniel, Staff Editor

United States v. Mendy Read-Forbes, No. 20-3104 (10th Cir., Feb. 8, 2021)

Issue:  A defendant requested to be released into immediate home confinement because of the dangers she faced if she contracted COVID-19.  However, she contracted COVID-19 before her appeal was heard.  May her case still be heard?

Answer:  No, the case is moot.

Facts:   The pro se defendant, Ms. Read-Forbes, appealed an order from the District of Kansas which dismissed her request for “immediate Release to Home Confinement with her father” because of COVID-19 conditions at the prison where she resided.  Due to her health conditions, Ms. Read-Forbes argued that contracting COVID-19 could result in “undue harm or death.”  She made these requests under the compassionate-release provision of the First Step Act[1] and the provision under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act[2] that gives increased authority to the Bureau of Prisons to authorize home confinement.  However, she contracted COVID-19 shortly after filing notice of appeal.

Discussion:  The 10th Circuit held that, because they could “no longer do anything to prevent” the defendant from getting infected with COVID-19, the court was deprived of jurisdiction to consider the merits of the district court’s decision.  The court therefore dismissed the case as moot.  The defendant continued to seek relief because her poor physical condition was worsened by her COVID-19 infection.  But the court said that her present claim was now based on different factual allegations that the district court had yet to consider, so the Court of Appeals could not hear them.

Key Authorities:

18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, § 12003(b)(2), 134 Stat. 281 (2020),

U.S. v. Meyers, 200 F. 3d 715, 718 (10th Cir. 2000) (explaining that when the relief that an appellant seeks is resolved or disappears prior to the appellate court’s decision, “the appellant can no longer satisfy the Article III case or controversy jurisdictional requirement and the appeal is moot.”).

U.S. v. Viera, 674 F.3d 1214, 1220 (10th Cir. 2012) (explaining that issues that were not considered by the district court are not to be considered on appeal).

[1]  18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).

[2]  See Pub. L. No. 116-136, § 12003(b)(2), 134 Stat. 281 (2020).

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