Post-Conviction Sentence Reductions in Federal Criminal Cases
In federal criminal courts, once a defendant has been sentenced after conviction for a federal criminal offense, the district court judge presiding over the case will hand down a sentence. In federal cases, this is often a term of imprisonment in federal prison.
Besides direct attacks on the conviction itself through a direct appeal or a writ of habeas corpus alleging violations of the defendant's constitutional rights, there are also several opportunities for potential sentence reductions post-sentencing.
After being sentenced to a federal prison, the defendant doesn't have to stop fighting and just accept they will be spending the next several years in a prison.
Our federal criminal justice system is not perfect and judges and juries make mistakes. Our judicial system offers several ways for a defendant to challenge their conviction and sentencing.
Post-conviction representation means you will need an attorney to represent you after you were already convicted. They might be able to challenge the guilty verdict, challenge an unfair sentence, or request an early release. There are a several ways a post-conviction attorney can work to get you released, or even reduce your sentence.
This article explores several common avenues by which defendants and their attorneys seek to have the defendant's sentence reduced after they have already begun serving time in federal prison.
There are some different statutes that provide for federal sentencing reductions. Whether someone is eligible for sentencing reduction adjustments will depend on their convictions and criminal history, among other factors.
A defendant may be granted early release through what is known as compassionate release. Typically, compassionate release is thought of as a mechanism by which extremely elderly or terminally ill inmates may be released, essentially so they may die with dignity outside of a prison setting. However, the federal compassionate release statute is actually broader than simply providing relief to the terminally ill.
An inmate applying for compassionate release must demonstrate extraordinary and compelling reasons justifying their release. Typically, the inmate must first exhaust their administrative remedies fully before applying directly to the court for compassionate release by petitioning the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
This administrative procedure has several phases which begin with the warden of the custody facility at which the inmate is housed. If denied by the warden, the inmate must appeal up the chain of authority at BOP, ultimately culminating with the national department which handles inmate appeals.
If all of these appeals are denied, or BOP fails to respond to the petition within statutory deadlines, the inmate has the right to bring a compassionate release petition before the district court.
The task for the court is to evaluate whether extraordinary and compelling reasons exist for shortening the defendant's sentence and, if so, whether the equitable factors contained in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) support a reduction.
One of the main factors the court must keep in mind in making these determinations is the protection of the public if the defendant were to be granted early release.
Rule 2255 Motion
A sentence imposed in a federal criminal case may also be reduced pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 when the sentence needs to be vacated, set aside, or corrected due to constitutional violations.
A prisoner can claim a right to be released from prison if they were sentenced in violation of the constitution, if the court didn't have the authority to impose the sentence, or if their sentence was unlawfully excessive.
These type of claims normally include ineffective assistance of counsel either at trial or at sentencing or, in the case of an extremely harsh sentence imposed by the trial court, a claim of constitutionally excessive punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States constitution.
Unless records indicate the prisoner is not entitled to any relief, the court shall will hold a hearing in order review the issues and facts in the case.
The reasons for a Rule 2255 motion will vary depending on the case, but a common reason is a claim their rights were violated due to ineffective assistance of counsel. It should be noted this type of motion is an uphill battle and not commonly granted.
A 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion is a form of habeas corpus petition which is brought before the court which initially sentenced the defendant.
Habeas Corpus Petition
A related habeas procedure also exists which is directed to a court in the jurisdiction in which the defendant is actually incarcerated which, in the federal system, is frequently different than the jurisdiction in which the sentencing occurred.
This form of habeas petition is found under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 and alleges that the defendant is in custody in violation of the laws or treaties of the United States.
If a judge agrees to hear a petition for resentencing, the result is often a litigated hearing at which both the defense and the government present both written and oral advocacy setting forth their respective positions on the propriety of reducing the defendant's sentence.
A sentence reduction could result in wholesale release from custody for time served, or simply an acceleration of the defendant's anticipated release date from federal prison.
As with sentencing in the first instance, a federal district court judge retains substantial discretion in granting or denying a petition for resentencing and, if the petition is granted, in fixing the correct amount of sentence reduction.
Federal Post-Conviction Representation
After you were convicted of a federal offense and sentenced to jail, you still have an opportunity to challenge the conviction or have your sentence reduced.
If you were convicted unfairly, our federal post-conviction defense lawyers might be able to help you. We first need to closely examine all the details of the case in order to identify any potential challenges to the conviction or sentencing.
If you or a family member is presently incarcerated in federal prison and is interested in pursuing a post-conviction remedy to reduce a sentence, contact our experienced team of federal criminal defense attorneys for an initial consultation.
Effective advocacy in bringing a petition for resentencing can maximize the chances of success for these rarely-granted sentence reduction procedures. Which specific type of post-conviction relief is most likely to succeed varies from case to case.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-rated nationally recognized criminal defense law firm that represents clients Nationwide against any type of federal offense. Our firm is based in Los Angeles County at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Contact our office for an immediate response at 877-781-1570.