Though several prominent individuals have asked for clemency in recent weeks, few have succeeded. Agustin Huneeus Jr., 54, a winemaker sentenced to five months in federal prison for his involvement in the college admissions scandal, was released in March, two weeks early, because of “unique health circumstances.”
R. Kelly, who is being held on federal charges in Chicago, also recently filed a petition for his release, citing a higher health risk tied to a recent surgery. “I think his fame works against him,” Steve Greenberg, Mr. Kelly’s lawyer, said on Thursday. “If she lets him out, it will be, ‘He got special treatment because he’s R. Kelly,’” he said, referring to U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly, who is overseeing the case. “And if she doesn’t let him out, people will say she didn’t let him out because he’s R. Kelly.”
Bill Cosby’s lawyers are working on his petition, said Andrew Wyatt, a representative for Mr. Cosby, but are holding off to see if Pennsylvania lawmakers will first vote to release inmates facing a high risk of contracting the coronavirus. Mr. Cosby is 82 and blind, Mr. Wyatt said, and two inmates in the same facility have tested positive for the virus.
“He has 18 months left before he can go before the parole board,” Mr. Wyatt said on Thursday. “Are you saying you’re not going to give him a fighting chance? He was not given a life-or-death sentence.”
The greatest challenge judges have to face, Mr. Jacobson said, is figuring out the bar for who can go home and who can stay — and doing so quickly, before the virus continues to spread.
“None of this is easy,” Mr. Jacobson said. “But what choice do we have?”