“Justin, I got four years in federal prison, man. I am not sure my sentencing Judge really got a sense of who I am. I think his mind was already made up at sentencing,” I heard yesterday from an accountant sentenced on the east coast.

It is always sad to hear defendants share misconceptions about sentencing judges. As I told him, “Just because you think your sentencing judge had his mind made up, that does not make it true.”

It was clear this defendant, like so many defendants before him, failed to put himself in the shoes of all government stakeholders: Probation Officer, Judge, and the United States Attorney.

They have a goal to protect the community, serve justice and respect victims who want retribution. Stakeholders expect you to tell them what they want to hear.

Sentencing Judges Too Frequently Hear:

“I did not have bad intentions. I am sorry. I have kids, do not send me to prison,” 

While true, “Is it the right message?”

We implore you to go beyond the boilerplate, templated messaging: be honest, vulnerable, and introspective in your statements.

John Steinbeck once wrote, “The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.”

To overcome the cynicism of the stakeholders, you must work to create a new record. This record must show the steps you are taking to make amends, how and why you will never return to another courtroom, and how you identify with the victims. Additionally, you must articulate your plans moving forward in a positive and proactive manner. It must be realistic and specific.

The problem with this approach, of course, is it takes work, and discipline. Everyone wants the best outcome, though not everyone is willing to do the work. Defendants need to own that reality.

It is not enough to say, “I am sorry and ashamed.” It is not enough to outsource this work to your lawyer. YOU must show your sentencing judge through your actions and your words that you are committed to making things right. You must take responsibility for your actions and show genuine remorse for the harm you have caused. This requires vulnerability and introspection, which can be difficult, but it is necessary.

Remember, the stakeholders in your case are not just faceless government officials.

They are real people with real lives who are impacted by the decisions made in the courtroom. Your actions have consequences, and it is your responsibility to take ownership of those consequences and work to make things right. Making it right starts with looking inward, then having the discipline (and skillset) to write it out. That is how rehabilitation begins.

In closing, I urge you to show, not tell, your commitment to making amends. Be honest, vulnerable, and introspective, and demonstrate your commitment to moving forward in a way that put victims first.

Had this executive who called me from the east coast put himself in the shoes of all government stakeholders, especially his sentencing judge, and had he been willing to do the work, he might have had a different outcome yesterday.

Justin Paperny

P.S. To see what action on a daily basis looks like, review our timeline.