Mississippi College Law Review

Publication Date

Fall 2023


The prison population has long been an overlooked segment of society. This is particularly true when it comes to pro se litigants within the federal prison system. A pro so litigant is someone involved in litigation, whether civil or criminal, and is representing themselves instead of being represented by an attorney. In other words, pro se prisoners do not have the aid of counsel at their disposal. Although it is an individual’s constitutional right to represent themselves, it can come at a cost, especially when it comes to understanding the nuances of civil or criminal court procedure. For pro se prisoners, filing a notice of appeal can be exceptionally challenging.

Unlike non-imprisoned litigants, prisoners face several challenges when it comes to filing court documents. Regarding notices of appeal specifically, prisoners are unable to converse with their attorneys (if they are represented); to send and receive mail freely without interruption; or to monitor the receipt of notices and documents by the clerk of court. The Supreme Court first recognized these hardships in 1964 in Fallen v. United States. Fallen established that a pro se prisoner who had done all he could to comply with the rules governing appellate filings had, in fact, timely filed his notice of appeal. Then, in 1967, Congress codified the rules for filing appeals as of right in federal court, attempting to provide all the necessary information for both civil and criminal cases in one location. This location was Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4 (“Rule 4”), with the only codified subsections being subsections (a) and (b). Rules 4(a) and (b) applied to all litigants who filed an appeal as of right. Even then, however, Congress did not provide a separate procedure for the process for filing an appeal as of right for federal prison litigants generally, nor did it provide a procedure for pro se federal prisoners specifically.



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