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Federal court upholds ruling on inmate’s release

Carter sought compassionate release due to COVID pandemic

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson, who last year denied compassionate release to a Detroit man involved in an organization that distributed heroin throughout several western Pennsylvania counties.

Gibson, presiding in the federal court in Johnstown, on Jan 15, 2015, sentenced Kenneth Irving Carter, now 41, to a prison term of 180 months, to be followed by five years of supervision.

Carter is serving his term at the Federal Correctional Institution at Milan, Mich.

Twice in 2020, the inmate requested compassionate release from the federal prison because he suffers from several medical conditions, including “severe obesity.”

Because of those medical conditions, Carter contended the COVID-19 pandemic “rendered him at a higher risk of death” than other inmates.

He also stated that an undiagnosed, flu-like illness swept through the prison, noting that prison efforts to control the virus were inadequate.

Carter asked the judge to change his sentence from incarceration to either probation or supervision.

He argued that he was a college graduate and that, if released, he would be able to support his family.

In May 2020, Carter’s petition was dismissed because he had failed to exhaust administrative remedies available to him.

In September 2020, he filed a second petition seeking compassionate release.

When Gibson denied Carter’s latest petition, he appealed to the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

An Appeals Court panel that included Judges Theodore A. McKee, Joseph A. Greenaway and Stephanos Bibas unanimously ruled this past week that Gibson did not abuse his powers by denying Carter’s petition.

The 3rd Circuit panel emphasized that a District Court judge can reduce an inmate’s term of imprisonment or impose probation or supervised release if it finds “extraordinary and compelling reasons” to do so.

Gibson found that such circumstances existed in the Carter case.

Even the government agreed that Carter’s obesity met the criteria as an extraordinary and compelling circumstance.

But, as the Circuit Court explained, a judge must also examine the seriousness of the crime committed by the inmate, the protection of the public and the deterrence to further criminal conduct posed by the sentence.

Gibson stated in his opinion that Carter’s crimes were serious and “caused a danger to the community.”

He went on to explain that Carter had served only 100 months of his 180-month sentence.

The 3rd Circuit opinion indicated “we will not disturb the District Court’s decision without a definite and firm conviction that it committed a clear error of judgment. We find no such clear error of judgment here.”

Carter has a release date from prison of March 2025.

The FBI investigation into Carter and other residents of Detroit, Cambria, Westmoreland and Indiana counties began in 2012 when agents intercepted hundreds of drug-related calls and text messages.

That led to the arrest of 14 defendants.

The FBI information filed in the case determined that “Carter is the leader of a large-scale Illegal drug distribution operation in the counties of Indiana, Westmoreland and Cambria.”

The FBI stated that Carter eventually stopped dealing with drug customers and devoted his time to his leadership role.

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