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
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.