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Detainee can’t sidestep § 2225’s requirements

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//December 8, 2022

Detainee can’t sidestep § 2225’s requirements

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//December 8, 2022//

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Where a detainee’s motion for compassionate release argued that his convictions and sentence were unlawful, his motion was denied. Because 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is the exclusive method of collaterally attacking a federal conviction or sentence, a criminal defendant is foreclosed from the use of another mechanism to sidestep § 2255’s requirements.


While serving his federal sentence, Dwayne Ferguson asked the warden of the facility where he was incarcerated to file a motion for compassionate release on his behalf. After the warden denied his request, appellant moved for compassionate release in federal district court. In addition to the arguments for compassionate release that he presented to the warden, which were related to his medical condition, appellant’s motion included arguments that his convictions and sentence were unlawful.

The district court determined that appellant had not exhausted his administrative remedies as to the arguments about his convictions and sentence because he had not raised them in his request to the warden. The district court also concluded that those arguments could not sustain a compassionate release motion because to consider them would usurp the existing procedures for a defendant to challenge his conviction and/or sentence.


This court has previously exercised appellate jurisdiction over rulings on compassionate release motions. brought under a similar provision, 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2), pursuant to both 18 U.S.C. § 3742(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 1291. The court now follows the lead of several other circuits and holds that 28 U.S.C. § 1291 confers appellate jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of a compassionate release motion filed pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A).

Section 1291, which gives this court authority to hear “appeals from all final decisions of the district courts of the United States,” is a better fit for compassionate release motions than § 3742(a), which permits a criminal defendant to appeal “an otherwise final sentence” in one of four statutorily enumerated circumstances. While some of these circumstances could potentially overlap with the arguments a defendant makes in his compassionate release motion, § 3742(a) could also deprive this court of jurisdiction to consider other arguments, such as those relating to a defendant’s advanced age or deteriorating medical condition, which have historically been the hallmark of compassionate release motions.

Moreover, 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) provides a mechanism for a district court to “modify” an existing sentence, rather than impose a new sentence. There is not a new sentence when the district court denies a defendant’s motion for compassionate release. Therefore, if § 3742(a) were the source of appellate jurisdiction, then this court would be limited to considering appeals of compassionate release motions only if those motions were granted. But it reviews both grants and denials of compassionate release pursuant to an abuse of discretion standard. Only § 1291 affords the power to do that.


Appellant first argues that the district court erred when it held that he failed to administratively exhaust the non-medical arguments in his compassionate release motion because he did not raise them in his request for compassionate release to the warden of his facility. The court agrees. “[T]he threshold requirement” to file a compassionate release motion is “satisfied if a defendant requests the [Bureau of Prisons, or BOP] to bring a motion on [his] behalf and either fully exhausts all administrative rights to appeal the [BOP]’s decision or waits 30 days from the date of [his] initial request.”

The government’s attempt to compare § 3582(c)(1)(A) to the administrative exhaustion requirement in the Prison Litigation Reform Act, or PLRA, is unavailing. The PLRA mandates administrative exhaustion in all cases, at least where administrative remedies are “available.” Moreover, issue exhaustion typically derives from the language of the governing statute or regulation. But neither § 3582(c)(1)(A) nor the BOP’s compassionate release procedures expressly require issue exhaustion.


The district court also determined that appellant’s non-medical arguments for compassionate release were in substance a collateral attack on appellant’s convictions and sentence and noted that the proper vehicle for such a challenge is a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion. The court agrees. Because § 2255 is the exclusive method of collaterally attacking a federal conviction or sentence, a criminal defendant is foreclosed from the use of another mechanism to sidestep § 2255’s requirements. This reasoning is consistent with that of the vast majority of circuits to have considered the question.


United States v. Ferguson, Case No. 21-6733, Nov. 29, 2022. 4th Cir. (Thacker), from EDVA at Richmond (Payne). Ann M. Reardon for Appellant. Richard Daniel Cooke for Appellee. VLW 022-2-248. 17 pp.

VLW 022-2-248

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