In a radical new case, an elderly man who was serving life for marijuana despite being seriously ill is set to be released from prison. The judge in the country’s Southern District of New York said he could no longer serve as punishment for his crime because it would amount to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

A 90-year-old was serving life for marijuana despite serious illness. Now he’s going home



A 90-year-old federal convict spending life in prison for a nonviolent marijuana trafficking charge will be released after a judge granted him compassionate release on Tuesday, overriding his prior ruling refusing him freedom.

Horacio Estrada-Elias, the subject of a CNN investigative article in September, is due to be released this week after serving more than a decade in prison.

His daughter Elizabeth Estrada said Tuesday, “It’s a big gift for all of us.” “We’re ecstatic to finally have the full family together.”

According to court affidavits submitted by physicians, Estrada-Elias has congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and chronic renal illness, and got the coronavirus while in jail. In April 2020, his prison doctor estimated he would survive “less than 18 months,” and his warden requested his release, citing his impeccable disciplinary record and stating last year that “he has been diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative disease from which he will not recover.”

In July, Federal Judge Danny Reeves refused Estrada-Elias’ request for compassionate release, claiming that life imprisonment is “the only punishment that would be suitable.”


Reeves was told to reconsider by an appeals court last month. Reeves had “abused (his) discretion” by neglecting the fact that Estrada-Elias is unlikely to reoffend and “overemphasizing” his nonviolent offenses, according to two justices on a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. One judge had a dissenting opinion.


Reeves issued a fresh ruling authorizing compassionate release on Tuesday, the day after the official appeal mandate was delivered to his court.

“When taken in combination with the defendant’s senior age, the defendant’s medical condition presents an unusual and compelling justification for release,” Reeves said, lowering Estrada-Elias’ sentence to time served.

Estrada speculated that her father’s counsel had anticipated the court to take longer to make a fresh order, which may have necessitated a hearing or legal briefs, but that “something touched his heart.”

Estrada-Elias will be freed from jail in Minnesota on Friday and flown to San Diego, according to Estrada. He’ll live with his sister, and the family intends to put up a medical bed in his house to care for him.

According to a CNN review of court records, Reeves has a particularly harsh record on compassionate release, having rejected the great majority of the more than 100 release requests that have come before him since the start of the coronavirus outbreak. In a previous ruling, he said that Estrada-Elias’ substantial marijuana trafficking showed “a blatant disregard for the law that can only be reflected in an equally harsh punishment.”

Alison Guernsey, a University of Iowa law professor who has researched compassionate release cases and examined Reeves’ ruling, said his reversal “seems to be anchored in good sense and human decency rather than procedural formalities.” She claims that convicts who are refused compassionate release seldom succeed on appeal.


Reeves, who was appointed to the bench by former President George W. Bush and now serves as the district’s top judge, denied an interview request.

After pleading guilty to a conspiracy to smuggle tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana into and throughout the United States, Estrada-Elias was sentenced to life in prison in April 2008. Because he had past drug offenses, Reeves, who handled his case, was obligated to impose him a life term.

However, the applicable obligatory minimum legislation was repealed in 2018. According to court papers, if Estrada-Elias hadn’t been subject to the obligatory minimum, his sentencing range would have been about 12 to 16 years in jail.

The case of Estrada-Elias exemplifies the enormous differences in compassionate release throughout the nation during the epidemic. According to data from the US Sentencing Commission, some federal courts granted more than 40% of compassionate release motions in their districts in 2020 and the first half of 2021, while others granted less than 3% — despite the fact that judges in all of the districts are applying the same laws, which allow compassionate release in “extraordinary and compelling” cases.

According to the statistics, judges in Estrada-Elias’ district, the Eastern District of Kentucky, approved roughly 6% of compassionate release petitions.

The vast disparity in grant rates between courts, according to Guernsey, “really calls into question the equity of compassionate release.”


“It looks to be virtually an accident of location,” she added, rather than the intensity of your physical condition or the sort of remarkable and compelling circumstances that will determine whether you’re freed.

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