Resources to help medically-fragile inmates

April 6, 2020

Guidance and Templates for Seeking Immediate Relief for Inmates Vulnerable to COVID-19


Many of you have current or former clients who face a heightened risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19 while in custody. The virus is growing exponentially around the world, and is expected to be particularly deadly within the prison system. CDCR has all the makings of a perfect storm for a devastating outbreak: large numbers of people living in close proximity, making social distancing impossible; limited access to soap and sanitizer to ensure good hygiene; systematic and widespread overcrowding; and a constitutionally inadequate healthcare system. 

The risk of serious illness or death is heightened for inmates of advanced age, and those with underlying medical conditions. Vulnerable clients might include: (a) people aged 50 or over; (b) people with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma; (c) people who have severe heart conditions; (d) people who are immuno-compromised (for example, due to cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, or prolonged use of immune-weakening medications); (e) people with severe obesity; (f) people with uncontrolled diabetes; (g) people with renal failure; (h) people with liver disease; and (i) those who are pregnant.

We have identified several ways you may be able to help your most vulnerable clients. Before pursuing any of these avenues of relief in an appointed case, counsel should confer with the consulting project attorney on your case to jointly assess whether such relief should be pursued, and the best course of action for your client.

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus

The Adult COVID-19 Habeas Template is for filing in the Court of Appeal, in pending or final cases. Counsel will need to update all information provided (links in footnotes make this a relatively simple task), and be on the lookout for new information about the spread of the pandemic in custodial settings. Since this is a template, counsel must include facts that are relevant to the client’s case (e.g., advanced age, medical vulnerability, infections in facility, etc.), referencing such information in attached declarations or exhibits. We will provide updates and information as necessary whenever possible. In appropriate circumstances, the writ could be modified for filing in the superior court. Please consult your assisting attorney about the proper venue for your writ.

Visit FDAP COVID-19 Template Page to Download Sample

Motion for Bail And/Or Own Recognizance Release

Although superior courts are operating at limited capacity, most if not all are still accepting emergency filings in criminal cases. One that should qualify is a motion for release on bail. We have created a Template Motion for Release on Bail or Own Recognizance that can be tailored to your client’s case and filed in the superior court. Given the rapidly evolving numbers, the statistics and other time-sensitive information will need to be updated. The latest figures can be found by clicking through the included links. You will also need to include information specific to your client regarding his or her underlying condition that renders them vulnerable, and facts as to why they are low risk to flee and pose no risk to the community.

Visit FDAP COVID-19 Template Page to Download Sample

Commutation Petition

Incarcerated persons, or attorneys on their behalf, may also file a commutation (clemency) petition with the Governor seeking release from prison. This can be done in addition to filing a habeas corpus petition or motion for release on bail, where appropriate. Instructions for filing such a petition can be found on the commutations page of Governor Newsom’s website. This page contains links to three simple forms the attorney and/or incarcerated person must complete in order to apply for commutation of sentence. 

Juvenile Post-Disposition Release 

The Pacific Juvenile Defender Center has developed two post-disposition template petitions (with exhibits) for release from congregate settings, available here

As always, feel free to contact your FDAP consulting attorney if you have any questions about any of these measures, or whether they should be pursued in your case.

We hope you and your families continue to stay safe.