Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Dec. 22

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

United States v. Solarin

Frederick Oluwole Solarin, a pro se federal prisoner, appealed the denial of his latest motion for compassionate release. 

Solarin is serving a 244-month sentence on his convictions for armed bank robbery and using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions on direct appeal. 

On Sept. 11, 2020, he filed a pro se motion for compassionate release under the First Step Act. Under the act, a district court may reduce a defendant’s sentence if, after considering the applicable sentencing factors, the court concludes “extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction” and “a reduction is consistent with applicable policy statements issued by the [United States] Sentencing Commission.”

Solarin claimed he should be released based on two chronic medical conditions (an eye condition and painful keloid scarring on his head and neck) and what he asserted was his inability to obtain adequate medical care. In supplemental pleadings filed through counsel, he also argued that prison restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic were exacerbating his difficulty obtaining adequate medical care.

On Jan. 28, 2021, the district court denied the motion, noting a reduction couldn’t be granted if the court found he was “a danger to the safety of any other person or to the community.” The court determined his medical conditions were extraordinary and compelling reasons that might warrant a sentence reduction. But the court indicated that, based on its consideration, Solarin wasn’t entitled to relief because he was a danger to public safety.

The court explained that, among other things, he’d been on probation for aggravated robbery when he committed the underlying offenses in this case, his criminal history includes convictions for crimes of assault involving the use of weapons, he was considered a recidivism risk by both the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the probation system and he had two recent prison disciplinary reports.

On April 19, 2021, Solarin moved for reconsideration. He maintained his medical conditions were extraordinary and compelling reasons for a sentence reduction, but he also argued that his criminal history was overrepresented in his sentence, which was improperly enhanced. Additionally, he noted the 10th Circuit’s then-newly issued decision in U.S. v. Maumau held the considerations used in part here don’t apply to defendant-filed motions for compassionate release, so the court should reconsider its decision on that basis. 

The district court was unpersuaded. The court denied the motion, reasoning it repeated arguments or raised new ones that could have been previously raised. Further, the court acknowledged the Maumau argument. But the court pointed out that even though it had found Solarin’s medical conditions were extraordinary and compelling reasons for a sentence reduction, its analysis of the other factors independently warranted the denial of relief. 

On July 12, 2021, the court concluded there was no basis for granting reconsideration. 

Solarin didn’t appeal. Instead, on Jan. 21, Solarin filed a new motion for compassionate release, repeating many of the same arguments previously rejected by the district court. He maintained that his medical conditions, the COVID-19 pandemic, sentencing errors and his difficulty obtaining adequate treatment were all extraordinary and compelling reasons for granting compassionate release. He also argued state officials had improperly lodged a detainer against him and the factors weighed in his favor.

The 10th Circuit rejected Solarin’s contention the district court incorrectly predicated its denial of relief on a requirement to deny a motion for compassionate release if the court finds the defendant is “a danger to the safety of any other person or to the community.” 

Although the rule is inapplicable to prisoner-filed motions, there is no abuse of discretion when the district court merely looks to the factors for guidance, the 10th Circuit ruled. Because the district court predicated its denial of relief on its independent analysis of the factors and merely referenced them for guidance, the court wasn’t persuaded by Solarin’s argument.

Next, Solarin contended the district court incorrectly characterized his motion as rehashing previously rejected arguments. He didn’t deny he sought a sentence reduction based on his medical conditions and difficulties obtaining adequate care. Solarin’s motion for reconsideration raised the alleged sentencing errors as new grounds for relief, which the district court presumably declined to consider because they were an improper basis for seeking reconsideration. The 10th Circuit determined the district court correctly recognized Solarin was rehashing previously rejected arguments. 

Solarin contended the factors weigh in favor of a sentence reduction but the 10th Circuit declined to reweigh the factors “Because the weighing of the § 3553(a) factors is committed to the discretion of the district court, we cannot reverse unless we have a definite and firm conviction that the lower court made a clear error of judgment or exceeded the bounds of permissible choice in the circumstances.” 

The 10th Circuit perceived no basis for reversing. The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. Solarin’s motion to proceed on appeal without prepayment of fees and costs was also granted.

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