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Federal defenders barred from massive clemency drive

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federal defenders barred from appealsThe Obama administration’s ambitious plan to extend clemency to thousands of prisoners suffered a serious blow Thursday after the agency that oversees the federal courts said that hundreds of federal public defenders and other court-appointed attorneys were not authorized to represent inmates in the process.

The decision, laid out in a memorandum written by the top lawyer for the Administrative Office of the Courts, effectively bars such lawyers from drafting or submitting clemency petitions because the Constitution does not guarantee inmates the right to legal representation in such procedures.

In a memo circulated to federal defenders and the chief judges of all U.S. district and appellate courts on Thursday, General Counsel Robert Loesche wrote: “There is no Sixth Amendment right to counsel for purposes of seeking executive clemency and no statutory right, except in capital cases … there is no authority under the CJA [Criminal Justice Act] or other law to appoint counsel in non-capital clemency proceedings.”

Under that interpretation, federal defenders, whose salaries are paid by the government, and court-appointed private attorneys, who receive federal reimbursement when they are called in for service, could not legally be paid for representing clemency candidates.

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