In most cases, after a person enters a guilty plea, or after a jury finds a person guilty, the judge sets a sentencing date. Those sentencing dates may be extended if the person is cooperating with authorities. Sometimes a person doesn’t get sentenced for several years after the guilty plea. In most cases, a person will face a sentencing hearing within a few months of pleading guilty. On the other hand, our team has worked with clients that waited 10 years before they had resolution. They committed a crime, faced civil proceedings, waited through criminal proceedings, cooperated with authorities. From the time of the crime, and the time the sentence was imposed, 10 years passed. Every case is different.
To prepare for sentencing, the defense attorney will prepare a memorandum. That memorandum will summarize the defendant’s conduct, include points of law, and offer reasons why the defendant deserves leniency. The prosecutor will submit a memorandum. In most cases, the prosecutor will argue for a harsher sentence.
In earlier chapters, we’ve emphasized the importance of engineering a sentence-mitigation strategy. For reasons described earlier, our team recommends a three- or four-pronged approach that includes:
A first-person sentencing narrative, A character-letter writing campaign, and if resources permit, A sentencing video, A comprehensive sentence-mitigation plan. By investing the time and energy to prepare, the person can help the judge get a better understanding of what happened. In addition to the four-pronged sentence-mitigation strategy, the person should also consider speaking at sentencing. Every defendant has a right to speak during the “allocution” phase, but not every defendant chooses to speak.
Sometimes, defense attorneys discourage defendants from speaking. By nature, defense attorneys are risk averse. They may have worked very hard preparing elaborate arguments. An emotional defendant may undermine the defense attorney’s arguments by minimizing responsibility. Some defendants can talk themselves into a harsher sentence. A well-prepared defendant, on the other hand, can be his best advocate during allocution.
Judges have told members of our team that they want to know as much as possible about the defendant before sentencing. Too often, defendants squander the opportunity to make a persuasive plea for mercy at sentencing. They may talk about how they’re going to miss their family and how they’ve been going to church. Every defendant will miss his family. Going to church may or may not be relevant to the judge.
Defendant’s advance their pursuit of mercy when they convince the judge that they understand the gravity of their crime and the impact the crime has had on society. Judges want to know defendants have introspected, and a well-prepared defendant can make that case during allocution. In earlier chapters, we’ve addressed our thoughts on how a defendant should prepare for the sentencing hearing. The videos that we include with our course also provide tips to prepare.
What Happens at the Sentencing Hearing?
At the sentencing hearing, the defense attorney, the prosecuting attorney, and possibly the probation officer will take turns arguing their issues regarding the presentence investigation report. Sometimes, the prosecutors will call upon victims of the crime to have their say. And the person being sentenced may call upon character witnesses, too.
At some point, the prosecutor may request a specific sentence. The defense attorney will argue that the sentence should be less than what the prosecutor recommends. If a person chooses to make a statement, it will usually be after the attorneys and other witnesses have had their say.
We’re convinced that acceptance of responsibility and an expression of remorse is a better strategy than standing stone-faced before a sentencin