No. 21-3348.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. TERRELL SHANKLE, Defendant-Appellant.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Decided January 23, 2023.


To be cited only in accordance with FED. R. APP. P. 32.1


Terrell Shankle, a federal prisoner, appeals the denial of his motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i). Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) weigh against his release, we affirm.

A jury found Shankle guilty on all six counts of an indictment charging him with sex-trafficking children and women—in some instances by means of force, fraud, and coercion, and in one instance by conspiring to transport a minor across state lines. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591, 2423(a), (e). For six years, Shankle ran a prostitution ring by violently exploiting his victims. He threatened them (including with a firearm), beat them with his fists and objects like a "pimp cane" and a brick, strangled them nearly unconscious, took their earnings, and branded them with tattoos reading "King Relly," his alias.

Although the applicable range of imprisonment under the Sentencing Guidelines was life, the district court sentenced Shankle to a prison term of 300 months and 5 years of supervised release. In so doing, the court noted a number of aggravating factors, including the brutal nature of the crimes and their long duration, the number of victims, and the fact that Shankle was on parole when he committed these offenses. Against that, the court cited Shankle's remote and relatively less severe criminal history, his age at the time of release, and the need to reserve life sentences for the most serious acts (such as causing death). We dismissed Shankle's direct appeal as frivolous. United States v. Shankle, 756 F. App'x 633 (7th Cir. 2019). He lost his motion for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 but has filed a notice of appeal, and we are considering whether to issue a certificate of appealability. Shankle v. United States, No. 22-2155.

After exhausting his remedies within the Bureau of Prisons, Shankle moved for compassionate release in the district court. In the pro se motion, he asserted that his age (over 40) and health conditions, including asthma, hypertension, and obesity, increased his risk of serious illness or death were he to contract COVID-19 in prison (for a second time). He also cited a recent surge of COVID-19 cases at his prison, the Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin, Illinois. Finally, Shankle contended that his good conduct in prison weighed in favor of an early release. The government argued in response that Shankle was vaccinated, that the incidence of positive cases at his prison was now low, and that in any case, early release would be incompatible with the factors under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) given the disturbing and violent nature of Shankle's crimes, his criminal history, and his lack of remorse.

The district court denied the motion, first determining that Shankle did not present an extraordinary and compelling reason for release because he did not support his assertion of increased susceptibility to COVID-19 despite his vaccination. Regardless, the court continued, release would be inappropriate under § 3553(a) because Shankle had committed heinous crimes and had served barely a quarter of his below-guidelines sentence. The court mentioned Shankle's good conduct, work record, and completion of rehabilitative programs in prison but ultimately concluded that early release would deprecate the seriousness of his crimes and endanger the public.

On appeal, Shankle challenges the court's evaluation of his health conditions and its assessment of the sentencing factors. As relevant to our analysis, Shankle contends that the court overlooked his rehabilitation in prison when it concluded that his release would endanger the public: according to Shankle, he has steered clear of criminality, completed GED and self-help courses, mentored other prisoners, and become a Black Hebrew Israelite. We review the denial of a motion for compassionate release for abuse of discretion. United States v. Saunders, 986 F.3d 1076, 1078 (7th Cir. 2021).

The district court did not err by denying Shankle's motion. The court thoroughly justified its conclusion that the § 3553(a) factors do not favor release. Contrary to Shankle's argument, the court expressly gave him "credit" for using his time in prison wisely. But the court explained that his good behavior in prison was overshadowed by the seriousness of his criminal conduct and the need for him to serve more than a small portion of his sentence to punish him for his "heinous" crimes and protect the public. Believing that releasing a defendant would diminish the seriousness of an offense is "well within the broad discretion a judge possesses" and "a sufficient reason" to deny a motion for compassionate release. United States v. Ugbah, 4 F.4th 595, 598 (7th Cir. 2021).



* We have agreed to decide the case without oral argument because the briefs and record adequately present the facts and legal arguments, and oral argument would not significantly aid the court. FED. R. APP. P. 34(a)(2)(C).


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