How to Request a Sentence Reduction for Federal Crimes: Tips from an Attorney
If you or a loved one have been convicted of a federal crime and sentenced to prison, you may be wondering if there are any options to reduce your sentence. The truth is, there are several ways to potentially get a federal prison sentence reduced. However, the process can be complicated, with strict eligibility requirements and deadlines.
One of the most common ways inmates seek sentence reductions is through “compassionate release.” This allows the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to release inmates early if they meet certain criteria.
The First Step Act of 2018 expanded compassionate release by:
- Allowing inmates to petition courts directly after the BOP denies their request or 30 days after submitting a request to the BOP
- Broadening the criteria for release beyond just medical issues to include “extraordinary and compelling” family circumstances
According to federal criminal defense lawyers, the best candidates for compassionate release are inmates who:
- Have terminal medical conditions with less than 18 months to live
- Suffer from serious medical issues that cannot be properly treated in prison
- Are elderly (over 65) and have served a significant portion of their sentence
- Have infant children with no caregiver due to unexpected circumstances
When petitioning for compassionate release, it’s critical to gather medical records, details on family circumstances, and letters of support to bolster your case.
Rule 35 Motions
Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35 allows inmates to request a sentence reduction within one year of sentencing if they provided “substantial assistance” to prosecutors. This typically involves:
- Providing information to aid investigations
- Testifying for the prosecution in another federal criminal case
- Participating in an undercover operation or sting
Defense lawyers emphasize the importance of having an attorney negotiate your cooperation agreement with prosecutors. The agreement should spell out exactly what you’ll provide and the sentence reduction you can expect.
Without a written agreement, prosecutors have discretion over whether to file a Rule 35 motion. So it’s key to lock down the details upfront before cooperating.
Retroactive Guideline Amendments
Occasionally, the U.S. Sentencing Commission lowers sentencing guidelines for certain federal offenses. If this happens within a year of your sentencing, your lawyer can file a motion to reduce your sentence under the new, lower guideline range.
Beyond the 1-year window, retroactive guideline amendments can also lead to sentence reductions for inmates who petition courts directly. But this only applies to specific amendments deemed retroactive by the Sentencing Commission.
According to defense attorneys, some of the most impactful retroactive amendments have involved reductions in drug offense sentencing guidelines.
Habeas Corpus Petitions
After exhausting other options, federal inmates can file habeas corpus petitions claiming their conviction or sentence was unconstitutional.
To succeed, the petition must show violations of constitutional rights, lack of jurisdiction by the sentencing court, or an unlawful sentence. Common claims include ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct.
Habeas petitions face strict deadlines, typically 1 year from conviction or exhaustion of appeals. So it’s important to act quickly if this avenue applies.
Tips from Federal Criminal Defense Lawyers
Here are some additional tips from attorneys on requesting federal sentence reductions:
- Act fast – Meet all deadlines for filing motions or petitions. Compassionate release requests should be made ASAP.
- Get organized – Thoroughly gather medical records, evidence to support claims, letters of support, and other documentation.
- Hire an attorney – Federal sentence reduction law is complex. Having an experienced lawyer greatly improves chances of success.
- Highlight rehabilitation – Emphasize any educational achievements, vocational training, good behavior, and rehabilitation during incarceration. This shows you’re ready for release.
- Research the judge – Understand the judge’s history of granting reductions to tailor your request accordingly. Some are more lenient than others.
- Make a compelling case – Use a respectful tone focusing on how release would benefit you, your family, and society. Tug at the judge’s heartstrings.
- Prepare for denial – If your petition is denied, be ready to file appeals. But also have a “Plan B” for making the most of your remaining time if release isn’t possible.
Getting a federal prison sentence reduced is difficult, but possible in the right circumstances. Consult with a knowledgeable federal criminal defense attorney to fully understand your options. With persistence and a well-prepared case, you may be able to convince a judge to show leniency. Don’t give up hope – explore every avenue under the law for potential early release.