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IN RE BERGER, 498 U. S. 233 (1991)

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U.S. Supreme Court

In re Berger, 498 U.S. 233 (1991)

In re Berger

Decided Jan. 14, 1991

498 U.S. 233


Petitioner Berger, an attorney appointed to represent a capital defendant in proceedings before this Court, filed a motion requesting compensation for services rendered in an amount exceeding the $2,500 maximum permitted under the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) and adhered to by this Court. She argued that the cap for capital cases had been lifted by the Anti-Drug Abuse Amendments Act of 1988, which permits the Court to award compensation in an amount "reasonably necessary" to ensure competent representation, 21 U.S.C. § 848(q)(10).


1. Section 848(q)(10)'s language authorizes federal courts to compensate attorneys appointed to represent capital defendants under the CJA in an amount exceeding the $2,500 limit. This interpretation is supported by the guidelines developed by the Judicial Conference to assist courts in interpreting and applying § 848(q)'s mandate.

2. The amount of compensation that is "reasonably necessary" to ensure that capital defendants receive competent representation in proceedings before this Court may not exceed $5,000. The existing practice has allowed for a level of representation that has been of high quality, and the administrative ease by which requests for fees are disposed of under the CJA's bright-line rule has assisted in conserving the Court's limited resources. However, it is possible that the $2,500 cap may, at the margins, deter otherwise willing and qualified attorneys from offering their services to represent indigent capital defendants. While compensation should be increased, given the rising costs of practicing law today, it would not be a wise expenditure of the Court's resources to deal with fee applications on an individual case-by-case basis. Such an inquiry is time-consuming, its result imprecise, and it would lead the Court into an area in which it has little experience.

3. Berger is entitled to attorney's fees in the amount of $5,000.

Motion granted.

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