Physically vulnerable defendants


Imprisonment unreasonable due to physical conditions

Case Type: 

Federal Criminal


This was an appeal Mr. Brownlee will never forget. His client was a severely disabled individual who pleaded guilty to a non-violent offense in federal court. At sentencing, the client’s trial attorney presented letters from the client’s doctors who opined that imprisonment could lead to amputation of the client’s legs, or even death. The Government did not even attempt to introduce evidence at sentencing suggesting that the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) would be able to deal with the client’s medical needs.  More importantly, the Government did not attempt to assure the sentencing judge that detention in BOP would not result in the terrible fate predicted by the treating physicians. Incredibly, the district court sentenced Mr. Brownlee’s client to immurement in a BOP facility based on the hollow and unsupported claim from the Government that the BOP could “handle anything.”

Mr. Brownlee appealed the client’s sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. While the appeal was pending, Mr. Brownlee filed a motion with the sentencing court requesting that his client be allowed to remain in home confinement until the appeal was decided. The sentencing court denied Mr. Brownlee’s motion and ordered the client to report to the BOP facility to which he’d been assigned to begin serving his sentence while the appeal ran its course. Not content with this result, and extremely concerned about his client’s safety, Mr. Brownlee filed an emergency request with the Eleventh Circuit, asking the Eleventh Circuit to review the sentencing court’s denial of his motion for home-confinement pending appeal. The Eleventh Circuit promptly reversed the sentencing court’s denial of Mr. Brownlee’s motion and ordered that his client be allowed to remain in home confinement until the appeal was resolved.

The Eleventh Circuit ultimately reversed the sentence in whole and remanded for resentencing. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with Mr. Brownlee that the sentence of imprisonment was procedurally unreasonable because the sentencing court’s conclusion that BOP could “handle anything” was a clearly erroneous factual determination, as no evidence suggested the Bureau’s claim was accurate.


523 Fed.App’x 679 (11th Cir. 2013)