I have written before about the Bureau of Prisons’ atrocious performance serving as gatekeeper for “compassionate release” motions under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1) (and Guideline Section 1B1.13). Sadly, matters have improved little. Over at the Cato Institute, Nat Hentoff shines a light on the Bureau’s continued resistance to affording judges the opportunity to reconsider sentences previously imposed, often decades prior.
Hentoff details the dogged, pro bono efforts of Attorney Ellen Lake and “the case of 94-year-old Carlos Tapia-Ponce, one of the oldest inmates in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), who is serving a life sentence for managing a warehouse that was the site of what to this day remains the largest cocaine seizure in history.” Having had no success with an application for executive clemency filed as part of the Department of Justice’s clemency initiative, Attorney Lake began pursuing Mr. Tapia-Ponce’s compassionate release. And, when the Director refused to act on (approve or deny) the most recent recommendation that a motion be filed, Attorney Lake sought relief directly from the sentencing court.
Tapia-Ponce had been recommended for a compassionate release/reduction in sentence (CR/RIS) on two separate occasions by two different BOP wardens. The first request was filed in 2013 and denied the following year. The second petition, filed in August 2015, was still pending when Tapia-Ponce’s health deteriorated to the point where he was transferred to a BOP medical center in North Carolina.
Lake’s repeated telephone calls to the BOP’S General Counsel’s office were ignored. Concerned with her client’s failing health, Lake filed a motion asking the U.S. District Court to compel the BOP to rule on Tapia-Ponce’s pending CR/RIS petition.
A day before the scheduled court hearing, and without informing Lake of the decision before she traveled from Oakland to Los Angeles to attend the court appearance, the BOP issued its second denial of Tapia-Ponce’s petition. The government’s official notice of denial confirmed Tapia-Ponce’s many medical problems, including severe degenerative heart disease and prostate cancer.