7th Circuit: Prisoner ineligible for relief due to COVID-19 vaccination

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the denial of relief to a man convicted of child pornography crimes, finding that because he is vaccinated against COVID-19, he is ineligible for relief on remand for extraordinary and compelling reasons.

In the case of United States of America v. Timothy Kurzynowski, 20-3491, Timothy Kurzynowski pleaded guilty to distributing child pornography after admitting to officers that he spent years in internet chatrooms discussing sexual behavior involving minors and that his sexual interest focused on 10- to 13-year-old boys, among other things.

In 2015, Kurzynowski was sentenced to eight years in prison. He subsequently moved for compassionate release pursuant to § 603 of the First Step Act of 2018, 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i), alleging after the denial of his request that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana improperly thought the Sentencing Commission’s criteria in U.S.S.G. § 1B1.13 constrained its discretion.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in a Friday decision, first concluding that the Indiana Southern District Court properly exercised its discretion in denying Kurzynowski’s motion.

It also found that under United States v. Broadfield, 5 F.4th 801 (7th Cir. 2021), the fact that Kurzynowski is vaccinated precludes a finding that the COVID-19 pandemic presents extraordinary and compelling reasons for his release.

Thus, the 7th Circuit concluded that the district court did not err when it considered § 1B1.13 or the § 3553(a) factors.

“Second, even if the district court had erred, it would be harmless. We are bound to follow United States v. Broadfield, 5 F.4th 801 (7th Cir. 2021). In Broadfield, we explained that the mass rollout of effective vaccines drastically improved the pandemic conditions in prisons,” it wrote. “Vaccinated prisoners in 2021 do not face the same risks of serious illness as they did in 2020. Unless a prisoner can show they are ‘unable to receive or benefit from a vaccine … the availability of a vaccine makes it impossible to conclude that the risk of COVID-19 is an ‘extraordinary and compelling’ reason for immediate release.’

“Because Kurzynowski is vaccinated, he is ineligible for relief on remand,” it concluded.

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