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90-year-old released from prison for non-violent cannabis conviction

Dec 16, 2021 | Media Partners, The GrowthOp

This post is presented by our media partner The Growth Op
View the original article here.

Despite his “age, illness, incapacity and lack of any violent convictions,” the district court had earlier denied the compassionate-release motion of the terminally ill senior.

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A 90-year-old federal inmate who was convicted of a non-violent cannabis offence more than a decade ago is heading home after an appeal court rejected a lower court’s ruling to deny his motion for compassionate release.

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The denial was made this past summer when a federal judge reasoned that a life sentence, without the possibility of parole, was the only punishment for his crime “that would be appropriate and that would protect the public.”

Horacio Estrada-Elias was accused of trafficking tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana into and around the U.S., according to CNN. The mandatory life sentence that was applied was taken off the books in 2018, it notes.

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But two judges on a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit argued the federal judge abused Estrada-Elias’s discretion since the inmate is unlikely to re-offend and the crime was not violent, notes a draft ruling issued last month by the appeal court. The third judge dissented.

Senior now bedridden because of his terminal illness

Estrada-Elias, who is now suffering from a terminal illness and is bedridden, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and sentenced to life in prison. He has spent 15 years (other sources note 13 years) in prison for the crime, the appeal court ruling states.

Per CNN, he suffers from congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation and chronic kidney disease. Estrada-Elias also reportedly contracted COVID-19 while in prison.

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“He has never been convicted of a violent crime and has not received a single disciplinary infraction in prison,” the appeal judges write, pointing out that the man’s warden even agrees that the inmate should be released from custody.

Despite his “age, illness, incapacity and lack of any violent convictions, the district court denied his compassionate-release motion,” the ruling notes. “We hold that the district court abused its discretion in denying [his] compassionate-release motion,” it adds.

As such, the lower court was ordered to reconsider its earlier decision, which it did, reversing the ruling earlier this week and approving compassionate release.

“The defendant’s medical condition constitutes an extraordinary and compelling reason for release… when considered in conjunction with the defendant’s advanced age,” the judge ruled, ordering the sentence to be time served, according to CNN .

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Daughter calls compassionate release “a huge blessing”

“It’s a huge blessing for all of us,” says Estrada-Elias’s daughter, Elizabeth Estrada, per CNN. “We’re so excited for the whole family to finally be together.”

The plan is that Estrada-Elias will live with his sister in the San Diego area.

The Last Prisoner Project (LPP) offered its congratulations and thanks in a tweet to all who worked to secure the release.

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There have been a number of compassionate releases granted for non-violent cannabis convictions in recent years. Last December, a 57-year-old man convicted of growing cannabis who had spent almost 13 years in prison was released thanks to the efforts of pro bono attorneys at Goodwin, in partnership with the LPP.

In November, LPP reported the man believed to be the longest-serving, non-violent cannabis prisoner in the U.S. was to be released. He had been in prison for more than three decades, during which time his parents, wife and son died.

Michael Thompson, who spent 25 years in prison on a cannabis and gun-related sentence that could have stretched to 60 years, was finally released after a couple of attempts.

And just this fall, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s initial bid to free a 55-year-old man sentenced to 20 years in prison on a cannabis conspiracy charge recently failed, but he reportedly plans to try again.

South of the border, citing data from the US Sentencing Commission, CNN reports that in 2020 and the first half of 2021 the divide between compassionate release approvals. Federal courts granted three to 40-plus per cent of compassionate release motions, depending on the district, it notes.

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