When faced with a federal indictment or target letter, many individuals instinctively search for information online (I sure did!), often focusing on aspects of federal prison life rather than the immediate steps they should take to mitigate their situation.

This pattern was evident in Hugo’s case, a key figure in our ongoing New York Times series. After Hugo and I spoke, he understood the focus TODAY should not be, “What is life like in a federal prison camp?” but rather, “How do I begin preparing for a possible sentencing hearing?” Our main goal, if Hugo pleaded guilty, was to ensure he did not sign a plea agreement he disagreed with made up facts that could lead to a much longer federal prison sentence.

How does a defendant mitigate at the earliest stage of an investigation? Good question! We have the answer!

The journey to a reduced federal prison sentence begins with the courage to be vulnerable, transparent, and honest from the day you learn you are in trouble or get that target letter.

Defendants who actively engage in sentencing mitigation invest the time, from day one, to understand the government’s version of events. Then, without excuses or rationalizations, they invest the time to introspect and examine the choices that led to this investigation.

Once completed, they retain counsel to present their narrative. In so doing, they begin the process of self-advocacy and save money in legal fees because they will not waste time and money on nonsense, aka, spinning tales: they will give their lawyer the facts. This approach not only demonstrates accountability but also shows a willingness to learn from one’s mistakes. Without guidance most defendants blame, excuse, ramble, spin tales and focus on irrelevant issues; they end up making matters worse and spending more money–they will also get a longer federal prison sentence.

In Hugo’s case, our process started with an interview with our team member Brad Rouse, a Harvard graduate. Hugo was encouraged to share the details of his life, including the events leading to his offense and his aspirations for the future.

Developing a compelling personal narrative is crucial, but its value is only recovered if it’s honest and effectively marketed.

After crafting Hugo’s personal narrative, the next step was to ensure that it reached the right stakeholders, not to sit idle for months before sentencing.

As Hugo grew through the investigation, so did his personal narrative.

This narrative is a dynamic, evolving document. By not waiting for permission, Hugo submitted his narrative directly to his lawyer, then probation officer, ensuring it became part of his Pre-Sentence Report (PSR)—a critical document that influences not only the sentence but also his prison designation, programs he can enroll in, health needs and so much more.

The delay in Hugo’s sentencing proved advantageous. He used the time to engage in community service, educating others about cryptocurrency—a relevant topic for his case. This positive use of time was a strategic move that demonstrated his commitment to making a difference.

In the end, Hugo’s efforts paid off. Despite the government’s recommendation for a federal prison sentence of more than 57 months, he received 36 months. We got him home in 10 months.

Hugo’s case exemplifies the importance of taking control and being proactive in defense strategy. It also underscores the significance of character reference letters that support, rather than enable, one’s conduct. Through a methodical approach, Hugo significantly reduced his time in federal prison, a testament to the effectiveness of sentencing mitigation and personal advocacy.

If you were to ask Hugo why he got such a great outcome, he would say, “I did not wait. The second I learned I was a target, I acted and worked to change the government’s narrative. I heard a federal judge say preparing for sentencing is a full-time job, and a defendant must do the work, show change and memorialize it. I did, and the work paid off.”

Hugo’s story proves the value of being courageous and introspective.

If Hugo can do it, why not you?

Justin Paperny

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Justin Paperny