Will Federal Prisoners Get Legal Help To Reduce Their Drug Sentences?


Most lower federal courts have ruled that federal prisoners do not have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel at the sentence modification proceedings judges must conduct to reduce retroactive sentencing guidelines. Consequently, none of the nearly 50,000 federal drug offense prisoners who may soon become eligible for a reduced sentence have any right to legal assistance in seeking this reduced sentence, says Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman on his Sentencing Law and Policy blog..

Many federal public defender offices have traditionally made considerable efforts to provide representation to those seeking reduced sentences. But even the broadest guideline reductions applied retroactively in the past (which were crack guideline reductions) applied only to less than 1/3 of the number of federal prisoners now potentially eligible for reductions under the new reduced drug guidelines. Berman suspects that public defenders are unlikely to be able to provide significant legal help to a significant number of drug offenders who will be seeking modified sentences under the new reduced drug guidelines.

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