Practice Areas

Criminal Appeals and Post-Conviction Representation

With extensive experience representing clients charged and convicted of federal criminal offenses, Ms. Chen is a master at identifying issues that other attorneys might miss, but which matter to appellate courts. When she meets with her clients, she listens carefully to understand what matters most to them.  Only then does she devise an approach to obtain the results they desire. The breadth and depth of her knowledge of federal criminal law allow her to work efficiently and to quickly home in on what is most important to the people she represents and what will present the most compelling case to the court.

Ms. Chen’s appellate successes stem from her ability to identify winning issues and present them in a manner that is persuasive to appellate courts. For example, in an appeal of multiple convictions after a lengthy racketeering trial, Ms. Chen identified an erroneous jury instruction that went to the heart of the factual and legal issues of the case and which, when briefed and argued, resulted in a reversal of all convictions and a remand for retrial.  On appeal of the same client’s convictions after the second trial, she identified an evidentiary error that, likewise, was central to the case and obtained a second reversal, which ultimately resulted in greatly reduced charges and a time-served sentence. 

Her active practice keeps her updated on the law, which not only helps her to identify legal issues quickly, but also allows her to reach back and help clients whose cases are long over. For example, after the Supreme Court decided an important case on “honest services fraud,” Ms. Chen crafted a post-conviction vehicle to vindicate a client whose conduct no longer violated that law. The “writ of error coram nobis” she filed resulted in the reversal of eleven counts of conviction, even though the convictions had long been final and her client had already completed her entire sentence. As a result, her client later had her professional license reinstated.

Sometimes, obtaining meaningful results means paying attention to things that others have missed. For example, in another case, she discovered shortly after having been appointed that her client—a lawful permanent resident—did not understand that her guilty plea to a large fraud would require she be deported and separated from her five U.S. citizen children.  Ms. Chen negotiated an agreement with the government that permitted her client to withdraw her guilty plea and to enter a plea to a different offense without the same immigration consequences. She also prepared a packet of materials for her client, who was on the other side of the country, that resulted in her being released from immigration custody in one day.

Complex Law & Motions

Ms. Chen has been described as a “lawyer’s lawyer.” She frequently collaborates with other defense attorneys about how best to present the legal and factual issues in their cases and helps devise a clear-eyed strategy to maximize the chance of success. Davina is available for general case consults as well as to assist in complex law and motions research and writing.

Federal Sentencing Law Consultation

Ms. Chen is also a highly sought-after federal sentencing law expert. She is especially skilled in analyzing recidivism enhancements and has helped scores of clients avoid mandatory minimum sentences by challenging the use of their prior convictions. She has trained attorneys on a wide variety of sentencing issues, from constitutional challenges to sentencing enhancements, through a myriad of sentencing guideline application issues, to using themes and theories in sentencing advocacy.

In 2003, she served on detail as Special Counsel to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets national sentencing policy, and she remains active in representing the interests of defendants before that body. From 2020-2024, she led litigation for the National Sentencing Resource Counsel Project of the Federal and Public Community Defenders (SRC), where she developed constitutional, statutory, and sentencing guideline litigation strategies, in collaboration with attorneys across the country.

The time to prepare for sentencing is the beginning of a case. Ms. Chen is available for sentencing consults, including for CJA attorneys as a sentencing law expert, at any stage of federal criminal proceedings.  

Working with CJA Panel Attorneys

For information and documents used for CJA Panel authorization, visit the CJA Attorneys page.