Sentence Mitigation Course

What's Your Elevator Pitch on Why You’re Worthy of Leniency at Sentencing?

If you were to venture a guess, how many people would you say that your judge has sentenced? The answer, of course, would depend on how long a judge has been on the bench. Whether your judge sentenced 100 people or 1,000 people, you can be sure that each of those people hoped for mercy.

But hope isn’t good enough.

Do you anticipate a sentencing hearing in your future? Then consider how you will differentiate yourself from every other person that has come before the bench. When it comes to allocution, most people don’t have a clue of what to say. Usually, it’s some variation of:

-I’m sorry for what I did and the mistakes I made.
-Prison wouldn’t do society any good in my case, because I’m not really a criminal.
-My wife and kids need my support, and we’ll miss each other.
Since my arrest, I’ve been going to church and praying for help.
-Forgive me for the mistakes I’ve made.

If you value liberty at the soonest possible time, then it may make sense to work toward a more persuasive elevator pitch. As we’ve said previously, a sentencing hearing is an opportunity to make the biggest sale of your life. The only question is how well you want to prepare to make the sale. Showing is a lot more powerful than talking.

What’s Wrong With Saying Sorry and Asking for Forgiveness?

There isn’t anything wrong with such sentiments, but they may not be the most effective strategy for sentencing.

Before we get to an effective mitigation strategy, we’d like to offer some thoughts on what’s wrong with each of the five statements above. Obviously, we’re not lawyers and we’re not dispensing legal advice. Rather, we’re sharing information that we’ve learned from our interactions with sentencing judges, lawyers, prosecutors, and more than 1,000 people that have gone through a sentencing hearing.

I’m sorry for what I did.
Unfortunately, experience can make a judge--and everyone else that works in the judicial system--rather than cynical. They hear “I’m sorry” from many defendants. Then, they review recidivism rates. They see that more than five out of every ten people they sentence return to the judicial system and face new sentencing hearings. From a judge’s perspective, those statistics make them less inclined to believe pleas of sorrow. Instead, they equate such pleas with crocodile tears, or false, insincere pleas of grief. Prosecutors will counter that a defendant is only sorry because he got caught.

Prison wouldn’t do society any good in my case, because I’m not really a criminal.
Judges aren’t particularly moved by criminal defendants that venture their commentary on when prison terms are appropriate. A person striving for mercy at sentencing may consider a more innovative approach. Rather than telling a judge why he shouldn’t go to prison, it may be more compelling to offer some measure of proof to show tangible steps he has taken to reconcile with society.

My wife and kids need my support, and we’ll miss each other.
Most all people love their family members. Judges understand that defendants will miss their family. But statements about missing family members rarely move a judge to mercy at sentencing. Instead, defendants that talk about missing their family may get a question from the bench about what thoughts the defendant had about his family when he was committing a crime.

Since my arrest, I’ve been going to church and praying for help.
Talking about religion rarely goes well for defendants at sentencing. Many people turn to faith after they’ve been charged with a crime. They make claims of how faith has helped them see the wrongs of their ways. Judges, however, may believe that prison may be just the spot for a person to test his commitment to faith. In any event, judges will not impose a lighter sentence simply because a defendant started to attend religious services after a criminal charge.

Forgive the mistakes I’ve made.
Judges do not have the power to grant forgiveness. They are tasked with carrying out the will of the legislative and executive branches of government. That is their assigned duty. They do not have the power, or the inclination to forgive. They do have the power to grant mercy, or leniency at sentencing. In cases where they grant mercy, or leniency, it’s likely because the defendant has proven worthy, through merit.
If you want to prove worthy of mercy, or leniency at sentencing, then the time is right to contemplate your mitigation strategy.