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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. BRIAN BROADFIELD
Case Number: 20-2906
Judge: Frank Hoover Easterbrook
Court: United States Court of Appeals
For the Seventh Circuit
Milwaukee, WI - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant with a compassionate release claim.
The district court denied the application, giving three reasons. First, the judge found that Broadfield’s documented
medical conditions do not include asthma and that his wheezing appears to be the result of allergies rather than a chronic
breathing problem. Second, the judge remarked that Broadfield has had multiple disciplinary problems in prison, leading to the loss of 27 days’ good time. The judge stated that this
implies an elevated risk of recidivism. Finally, the judge
Defendant is also a career offender with convictions for both
weapons and drug offenses. He also … received a six-level enhancement for manufacturing methamphetamine where children
were present. Accordingly, the Court is unable to determine that
Defendant is not a danger to his community as is required under
the Compassionate Release statute.
2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 176175 *6 (C.D. Ill. Sept. 24, 2020). Broadfield’s appellate brief concentrates on this third part of the district court’s explanation.
Despite what the judge wrote, Broadfield has not been
convicted of a weapons offense. And §3582(c)(1)(A) does not
make a judicial finding of non-dangerousness essential to
compassionate release. All the statute requires is a finding of
“extraordinary and compelling reasons” plus consideration
of any sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. §3553(a) that are
pertinent to the prisoner’s circumstances. Dangerousness is
among the conditions that the Sentencing Commission requires a court to consider when the Bureau of Prisons seeks a
person’s compassionate release, but we held in United States
v. Gunn, 980 F.3d 1178 (7th Cir. 2020), that this proviso does
not apply to prisoner-initiated applications, unless or until the
Sentencing Commission revises the Guidelines to make it applicable.
No. 20-2906 3
Broadfield wants us to remand with instructions to reconsider now that these misunderstandings have been cleared
away. But a remand would be appropriate only if reconsideration could produce a decision in Broadfield’s favor, and it
could not. When Broadfield filed his application for compassionate release, and when the district judge denied it, COVID19 was a grave problem in America’s prisons, where people
cannot engage in social distancing. Today, however, effective
vaccines are available. The Bureau of Prisons’ policy statement—COVID-19 Vaccine Guidance (Mar. 11, 2021)—says that
prisoners will be offered a vaccine in order of risk as soon as
vaccines have been offered to all staff members. That condition was satisfied months ago, and prisoners are regularly
vaccinated. The Bureau of Prisons reports that 1,300 prisoners
at FCI Seagoville, where Broadfield is confined, have been
fully vaccinated against COVID-19. See
hips://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/. This is short of the
prison’s full population of roughly 1,700, but some may have
been vaccinated before arrival, while others may have declined the opportunity.
Broadfield has not contended that he wants to be vaccinated but that the Bureau of Prisons has failed to inoculate
him. Because risk of COVID-19, which can bear especially
hard on people with pre-existing breathing conditions, is
Broadfield’s sole reason for seeking compassionate release, a
remand would be pointless. Vaccinated prisoners are not at
greater risk of COVID-19 than other vaccinated persons. (A
more cautious statement would be that published data do not
establish or imply an incremental risk for prisoners—either a
risk of contracting the disease after vaccination or a risk of a
severe outcome if a vaccinated person does contract the disease.) And a prisoner who remains at elevated risk because he
4 No. 20-2906
has declined to be vaccinated cannot plausibly characterize
that risk as an “extraordinary and compelling” justification
for release. The risk is self-incurred.
In a supplemental filing after oral argument, Broadfield
informed us that he was offered a vaccine but declined. He
maintains that he fears an allergic reaction, but he does not
contend that he has suffered such a reaction to any other vaccine. The Bureau of Prisons’ policy statement provides that
prisoners with a history of allergic reactions to vaccines will
receive extra evaluation before vaccination and additional observation afterward, but Broadfield does not come within this
category. He says that he has had an allergic reaction to two
drugs (penicillin V and bupropion) and contends that this experience may show that he is allergic to polyethylene glycol,
a component of both mRNA vaccines, or polysorbate, a component of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But he does not contend that other people who have allergies to penicillin or bupropion have fared poorly after being vaccinated. None of the
FDA, the CDC, or the WHO treats an allergy to penicillin or
bupropion as a reason not to receive any of the COVID-19 vaccines. Instead they recommend (and the Bureau of Prisons
provides) a 15-to-30-minute observation period after the injection so that allergic reactions may be detected and treated.
The federal judiciary need not accept a prisoner’s self-diagnosed skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccines as an adequate explanation for remaining unvaccinated, when the responsible agencies all deem vaccination safe and effective.
Outcome: Section 3582(c)(1)(A) was enacted and amended before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and it will continue to serve a beneficent function long after the pandemic ends. But for the many prisoners who seek release based on the special risks created No. 20-2906 5
by COVID-19 for people living in close quarters, vaccines offer relief far more effective than a judicial order. A prisoner who can show that he is unable to receive or benefit from a vaccine still may turn to this statute, but, for the vast majority
of prisoners, the availability of a vaccine makes it impossible to conclude that the risk of COVID-19 is an “extraordinary and compelling” reason for immediate release.