No. 20-3701
Appeal from the United States District Court
for the Northern District of Ohio at Toledo.
No. 3:18-cr-00299-5—Jack Zouhary, District Judge.
Decided and Filed: November 20, 2020
Before: MOORE, COOK, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.


KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge. The “compassionate release” provision of 18 U.S.C. § 3582 allows district courts to reduce the sentences of incarcerated persons in “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances. 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A). For over three decades, § 3582(c)(1)(A) allowed only the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to file motions for compassionate release. Because the BOP rarely did so, few compassionate release cases reached the federal courts. This drought of compassion concluded in 2020, when the forces of law and nature collided. The First Step Act of 2018’s provision allowing incarcerated persons to file their own § 3582(c)(1)(A) motions coupled with COVID-19’s pernicious presence in federal prisons triggered a massive upswing in imprisoned persons seeking compassionate release; 10,940 persons applied for compassionate release in the first three months of the pandemic alone. Michael Jones is one of these legion petitioners. Jones is serving a ten-year sentence at Federal Correctional Institution Elkton, where one out of every four imprisoned persons has tested positive for COVID-19. In his § 3582(c)(1)(A) motion, Jones’s medical ailments—which expose him to COVID-19-related health complications—comprise the crux of his request for a sentence reduction.

The First Step Act and COVID-19 have redefined the compassionate release landscape. Because this court had little opportunity to examine compassionate release before this annus horribilis, technical questions regarding § 3582(c)(1)(A)’s requirements and standards of review long went unanswered. Our recent decision in United States v. Ruffin, 978 F.3d 1000, No. 20- 5748, 2020 WL 6268582 (6th Cir. Oct. 26, 2020), unravels some of these mysteries. In lockstep with Ruffin, we hold that sentence-modification decisions pursuant to § 3582(c)(1)(A) embody a three-step inquiry: district courts must “find” both that “extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant [a sentence] reduction”3 and that “such a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission” before considering all relevant sentencing factors listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). We resolve a debate that we first teed up in Ruffin, holding that U.S. Sentencing Guideline § 1B1.13 is not an “applicable” policy statement in cases where incarcerated persons file their own motions in district court for compassionate release. We also hold that the deferential abuse-of-discretion standard requires district courts to supply specific factual reasons for their compassionate release decisions.

Here, the district court found for the sake of argument that an extraordinary and compelling circumstance existed in Jones’s case but that the § 3553(a) factors counseled against granting compassionate release. The district judge, however, did not refer to U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 in rendering its extraordinary-and-compelling finding. Because Jones—not the BOP—filed a motion for compassionate release, the district court did not need to refer to § 1B1.13 in its decision. Further, the district court satisfied its obligation to explain its consideration of the § 3553(a) factors. Thus, we AFFIRM.