United States v. McGee, 992 F.3d 1035 (10th Cir. Mar. 29, 2021)

Enacted in 2018, the First Step Act, Pub. L. 115-391, §§ 101 et seq., 132 Stat. 5194, reduced the mandatory life sentence required for certain drug crimes under 18 U.S.C. 841.  The Act also provides a separate mechanism for “compassionate release” based on “extraordinary and compelling reasons.”  In this appeal, the Tenth Circuit determined that a district court considering a petition for compassionate release under the Act is not bound by the United States Sentencing Commission’s policy statements limiting the definition of “extraordinary and compelling reasons.”  Instead, the district court must independently assess whether the reasons offered by the petitioner qualify as “extraordinary and compelling.”  Furthermore, the Act’s reduction of certain mandatory life sentences under Section 841 may be considered an “extraordinary and compelling” reason for early release of a petitioner who does not otherwise qualify for the reduction.