Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, December 9, 2020


Page 1


Ninth Circuit:

COVID-19 Threat Doesn’t Require Release of Inmate With Respiratory Problems

Panel Says Judge Didn’t Abuse Discretion in Finding That Seriousness of Armed Robbery Offenses Outweighs Medical Considerations


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed an order denying a compassionate release of an inmate with various ailments who claims he is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, saying that the District Court judge reasonably found that the gravity of the offenses, including two counts of armed robbery, justifies keeping the man behind bars.

A three-judge panel—comprised of Judge Daniel Aaron Bress and Senior Judges Richard R. Clifton and J. Clifford Wallace—said in a memorandum opinion that District Court Judge Morrison C. England Jr. of the Eastern District of California did not abuse his discretion in declining to order the early release of Shondor Janell Arceneaux, whom he sentenced on May 24, 2006 to 81 years and four months in prison.

The petition for a compassionate release recites that Arceneaux has been “diagnosed with chronic laryngitis, bronchitis, and obstructive sleep apnea.” It says he was “previously diagnosed with hypertension and type II diabetes mellitus, also known as adult-onset diabetes, although he is no longer treated for the disorder,” had been “morbidly obese” in 2012, and that such “disorders can reoccur.”

Arceneaux “is approaching age 50 with respiratory problems,” the petition sets forth, “which increase the risk of fatality due to COVID-19,” declaring:

“The risk of severe illness and death due to COVID-19 justifies early release.”

England was more concerned with the inmate’s criminal history than his medical history. In denying the motion on Aug. 21, he said:

“Having presided over this case for years, including through trial and sentencing of this Defendant, the Court is intimately familiar with both this individual and the facts of this case…[I]it absolutely agrees with the Government that, even assuming Defendant’s medical conditions were sufficient to qualify him for consideration for release, which the Court does not address, such release would be inappropriate because he is a danger to the community.”

Arceneaux, he said, was a leader of an armed robbery ring. He quoted the government’s opposition to his release as saying”:

“[T]he facts of the armed bank robberies organized by [Defendant] are horrific. The robbery crews...repeatedly put innocent bank employees and patrons in fear of their lives in an effort to greedily collect easy money. [Defendant’s] leadership demonstrated a singular focus on ruthless efficiency in getting to the vault, grabbing the cash, threatening anyone in the way, and removing evidence of the crimes by attempting to remove video recordings. [Defendant’s] crimes demonstrate an unmitigated callousness that undermines his motion for compassionate release. The robbery crews under [Defendant’s] command showed no compassion to their victims....”

England added:

“Moreover, Defendant’s criminal history spans many years and includes assaults and other violent crimes. While the Court commends Defendant for his record in prison and encourages him to continue to try to better himself in anticipation of his eventual release, based on his history, the Court can only conclude that Defendant remains a danger to society.”

Finding no fault in England’s determination, the panel said yesterday:

“The court considered the nature and circumstances of the armed robberies for which Arceneaux was convicted and his lengthy criminal history, and reasonably concluded that a reduced sentence was not appropriate in light of the danger Arceneaux posed to the community…The district court did not clearly err in finding Arceneaux’s offense conduct and history indicated that he posed a continuing risk of danger to the community.”

Arceneaux claimed that England erred in not holding a hearing to determine the severity of his medical conditions. The panel responded:

“[T]he evidence of Arceneaux’s medical conditions was adequately presented in his written motions and additional evidence would not have refuted the district court’s conclusion that Arceneaux remained a danger to the public. Similarly, Arceneaux’s argument that his sentence was unfairly disparate was irrelevant to the issue of the danger he posed to the public.”

Arceneaux is incarcerated in a federal prison in Memphis. With credits, he is scheduled for release in 2073.

The case is United States v. Arceneaux, 20-10277.


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