Terminal Medical Condition FAQs

Terminal Medical Condition

1. What is the Terminal Medical Condition compassionate release category and on what is it based?

All federal compassionate release requests are governed by Bureau of Prisons Program Statement 5050.49, Compassionate Release/Reduction in Sentence. Section 3(a) of this program statement concerns terminal medical conditions and the governing criteria.

2. What is the criteria for Terminal Medical Condition compassionate release?

Two specific elements are considered. First, the inmate must be “diagnosed with a terminal, incurable disease[.]” Second, their life expectancy must be 18 months or less. Generally speaking, the Bureau requires its own doctors to make such a diagnosis and life expectancy determination.

3. Could a private doctor be retained to render a diagnosis or life expectancy determination?

While possible, there would be several issues. One, the Bureau most likely won’t permit such a doctor to personally examine the inmate. As such, the doctor would have to base his or her determination on a review of the inmate’s medical records. And two, the Bureau will almost certainly side with its own doctors. Regardless, a diagnosis and prognosis from an outside doctor could support a petition for a reduction in sentence.

4. What does the Bureau’s assessment consist of?

At a minimum, the Bureau will consider the terminal disease, prognosis, impact of other conditions on the inmate’s health, and any functional impairment. While functional impairment is not dispositive, it is often a coloring factor.

5. What is the likelihood of receiving compassionate release based on a terminal medical condition?

As with all categories of compassionate release, the odds of receiving early release due to a terminal medical condition are poor, though data does show that petitions in this category are granted more often than any other.

From 2014 to 2018, the Bureau received 3,059 requests for compassionate release. Of these, 817 were for a terminal medical condition. Only 405 eventually made their way to the Director for review. During this period, 306 requests were approved by the Director, while 2,405 were denied.

6. What can be done to support a compassionate release petition that is based on a terminal medical condition?

As with other categories of compassionate release, the request needs to closely track the Bureau’s criteria, and should include supporting documentation. Both of these are essential for any compassionate release request. See our example compassionate release requests page for more information on how compassionate release petitions should be formulated.

7. I’ve decided to file a reduction in sentence request based on a terminal medical condition. What should be my first step?

If you plan on filing the petition on your own, you should start by reviewing the compassionate release policies and regulations to better understand the specific criteria. With this in mind, gain a thorough understanding of your background and how you fulfill the criteria. Secure documentation supporting your assertions. Finally, draft the petition, enclose relevant documentary support, and file the request with your Warden.

8. Can an attorney help in this process?

Absolutely. We at the Law Offices of Brandon Sample have a proven track record of compassionate release success. We can conduct the medical and personal background investigation, obtain all required supporting documentation, draft a compelling compassionate release request which fulfills the Bureau of Prisons’ policy requirements, and file the request with your Warden. We can also monitor the review process and intervene when in your best interest. We will provide you with the best possible chance at success.

If you still have questions after reading our Terminal Medical Condition FAQs, please call us at 802-444-4357.

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