Does Compassionate Release Raise Equal Protection Concerns?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 05, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Carl Wade, a terminally-ill convicted murderer, died in a state prison in Vacaville on Thursday, reports The Associated Press.

While dying in prison isn't uncommon for someone convicted of first-degree murder, Wade's case drew media attention because he was supposed to be released last week under California's compassionate release plan.

California prisoners can be released under either state or federal compassionate release laws. Federal statute 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) allows for compassionate release when "extraordinary and compelling reasons" warrant the reduction. California's compassionate release provision allows for release when an inmate is terminally ill, and is not condemned or sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

In this case, San Francisco's First District Court of Appeal ruled in May that Wade should be released because he was terminally ill and posed no danger to the public.

Wade's attorney, L. Richard Braucher, told the San Francisco Chronicle that a judge was expected to issue a release order last Wednesday. It may have been issued but didn't reach Wade before he died. "I last spoke to him on Monday, and he was very happy about coming home ... The system did not deliver justice to him."

But does the system deliver justice when it grants compassionate release? Does it afford prisoners with terminal illness greater protection than healthy prisoners?

Defense attorneys: Can you successfully argue for the compassionate release of an aging, but otherwise healthy prisoner serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole? Would such a determination discriminate against younger prisoners who have already served an equal amount of time?

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