Reality Leigh Winner, a convicted national security leaker seeking an early release from prison because of the coronavirus, faced pushback Monday from the Department of Justice.
The department raised objections to a request made by Winner’s lawyers that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit expedite consideration of her pending case.
Winner, 28, pleaded guilty in 2018 to one count of disclosing classified material and received a 63-month sentence she is currently serving at a federal medical prison.
Lawyers for Winner asked last month that she be able to complete her sentence confined to her parents’ home in rural Texas, citing the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and her susceptibility in prison to COVID-19, the contagious and potentially deadly disease it causes. That request was denied by a U.S. District Court judge in Augusta, Georgia, however, prompting her legal team to initiate appeal proceedings in the Eleventh Circuit based in Atlanta.
Winner’s lawyers asked last week for the appeals court to expedite consideration of her case on account of the “exigent, fluid and dynamic nature of COVID-19 pandemic, and the grave stakes of the matter,” resulting in the government to enter the latest filing in opposition.
Mr. Christine, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, reasoned that Winner’s lawyers rushed to file their original request for compassionate release in District Court and that considering it in appeals court at this point would be premature.
“In the end, Winner has not followed the appropriate procedures or exhausted her administrative procedures,” he wrote in the filing. “The district court was without jurisdiction to consider her motion, and Winner should not be allowed to leapfrog other defendants who are appropriately following the statutory requirements. This includes expediting her appeal. For these reasons, she has not shown good cause and her request to expedite briefing should be denied.”
Winner’s lawyers previously said she should be allowed to finish her sentence under home confinement because she is immunocompromised due to being diagnosed with bulimia and depression. Neither condition has been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as increasing a person’s risk for developing serious illness from COVID-19, Mr. Christine countered.
“Moreover, almost by definition, practically every defendant who submits a COVID-19 based request for compassionate release asserts health issues,” he wrote on behalf of the Justice Department. “Therefore, because Winner has not demonstrated that her particular circumstances justify expedited appellate review, apart from the circumstances facing any other defendant appealing a COVID-19 related issue, the United States respectfully requests that this Court deny Winner’s motion to expedite.”
Winner was charged in connection with leaking to the media a classified National Security Agency document about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. She is currently scheduled to complete her sentence in November 2021.
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