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Dying Brooklyn lawyer denied compassionate release

August 12, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Manhattan Federal Judge John Koeltl has rejected a Brooklyn lawyer’s request to be released from prison on account of a terminal breast cancer diagnosis.

As previously reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Lynne Stewart, a 73-year-old Brooklyn lawyer, has been imprisoned since 2009. Stewart is serving a 10-year prison term after she was convicted of letting a blind Egyptian sheik communicate with his associates while he was serving life in prison for a plot to blow up five New York City landmarks and assassinate then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In her application for release, Stewart argued that after she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, her prison sentence became unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.   

“T]here is no right that requires the release from prison of terminally ill inmates,” Koeltl wrote. There are instances where prisoners are released on the grounds of 8th Amendment violations, including cases where the offender had little blameworthiness in the convicted crime, or limited severity or seriousness of the supposed offense.

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Stewart’s case does not fit into either of these categories, Koeltl said. “[Stewart] cannot point to any diminished culpability or lack of seriousness of the offenses that would render her sentence unconstitutional … she has failed to show that her sentence is in violation of the Constitution or the laws of the United States,” Koeltl concluded.

Not achieving success with a constitutional argument, Stewart asserted that her release should be granted on the grounds of compassion. “[Stewart] is appropriate for compassionate release,” Dr. Prasanthi Ganesa wrote in a letter to court after acknowledging that Stewart is expected to only have 18 months to live.

Procedure requires that in order for compassionate release to be put into effect or even considered, the director of the Bureau of Prisons must submit an appropriate motion. Such a motion was not submitted on Stewart’s behalf.

“A court lacks authority to reduce a sentence of imprisonment under the compassionate release statute unless a motion is filed by the director of the BOP,” Koeltl wrote citing case precedent. “A district court may not modify a defendant’s federal sentence based on the defendant’s ill health except upon a motion from the director of the [BOP].”

Given the case precedent and the lack of constitutional grounds for release, Koeltl denied Stewart’s release.  Koeltl did, however, provide a window of relief. “The Court would give prompt and sympathetic consideration to any motion for compassionate release filed by the BOP, but it is for the BOP to make that motion in the first instance,” said Koeltl.

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