Answering that question reminds me of an old saying about the best time to plant an oak tree. I heard a speaker ask that question to members of his audience. Predictably, audience members ventured a guess.

  • In the morning?
  • In the winter?
  • In the summer?

No one had a clue.

Pausing for dramatic effect, the speaker then gave the answer. The best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.

We could say the same thing about a sentence mitigation plan.

Too often, a state or federal defendant doesn’t do anything to prepare for the sentencing hearing.

It’s understandable. Many defendants don’t think of themselves as criminals. Regardless of what type of activity brought them to the attention of authorities, they think that they’re different, immune from the law enforcement. They may not know anyone that has been through the criminal justice system, and they cannot conceive of themselves going into the system.

In my book, Lessons From Prison, I talk about my experience. For several years, I worked as a stock broker. I thought of myself as a professional in the financial services industry. When I learned that authorities were about to charge me with violating securities laws, I believed that I could maneuver my way out. In time, I believed that they would see me for what I really was:

  • A good son
  • A college graduate
  • A taxpayer

But authorities saw me differently. In their eyes, I violated securities laws. That made me a target for prosecution. And when federal authorities target a person for prosecution, their conviction rates exceed 85 percent.

With those odds, it makes a lot of sense to begin thinking about a sentence mitigation plan at the soonest possible time.

Regardless of what type of charge a person faces, it’s important to realize that sentencing proceeding will likely follow. Sentence mitigation plans can help.

Start with an understanding of what the defense attorney will do. Attorneys will work with:

  • The evidence against the individual,
  • The procedural rules that determine what evidence the court will consider,
  • The substantive law that Congress has passed,
  • The case law that judges have decided,
  • The prosecutor’s ability to prove a case against the defendant.

To succeed, the defense attorney will exercise judgment and discretion, fighting valiantly to get the best possible outcome for the defendant. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney will be analyzing the case and pressing forward to get the outcome they want. Rather than justice, the prosecutor will strive for a conviction. The defense attorney will parry the prosecutor’s efforts, always assessing the strength of arguments that he can use.

While the defense attorney may be a great analytical thinker, he may not always have time to listen to the defendant’s life story. For that reason, every defendant should invest the time and energy to present that life story.

A life story can make all the difference in the world when it comes to sentencing.

Indeed, our team has worked closely with many federal judges. Our Youtube channels includes two interviews where federal judges specifically stated that, when it comes to sentencing, more than anything else they want to hear from defendants.  Don’t take our word for it. Watch the two videos:

Let’s Talk About The Defense Attorney’s Position

Some defense attorneys support a pro-active sentence mitigation plan, while other defense attorneys resist such initiatives.


As stated above, attorneys are great analytical thinkers. Since they know it’s the prosecutor’s burden to prove a case, they operate out of an abundance of caution. They do not want to introduce any evidence that a prosecutor could use against their client. And since most defendants start out in denial, incapable of fully appreciating the system or the charges against them, some attorneys do not want their clients to say anything.

Attorneys may have invested considerable amounts of time to construct an elaborate defense. They do not want their clients to make statements that prosecutors may twist, making it more difficult for the attorney to argue for leniency at sentencing. Defense attorneys may prefer to rely upon case law, facts, and what the prosecutor could prove.

Yet our team has interacted with more than 1,000 people that have gone through the criminal justice system. We’ve had personal interactions with state and federal judges. Based on our experience, we’re convinced that defendants put themselves in a far better position when they engineer an effective sentence mitigation plan. Indeed, we’re convinced that when a defendant prepares an effective sentence mitigation plan, that individual does immense service to his defense attorney.

In our view, an effective sentence mitigation plan will strive to achieve several outcomes:

  • It will help the judge see and understand the defendant as an individual
  • It will help the judge grasp influences that led the defendant to the current situation
  • It will help the judge see aspects of the defendant’s life that could not be conveyed by the defense attorney’s eloquence alone
  • It will help the judge see the defendant in his own environment
  • It will help the judge learn what other people in the community think about the defendant

Engineering an effective sentence mitigation plan does not excuse the misconduct or litigate the case. In fact, a sentence-mitigation plan does just the opposite. It is a strategy to show the judge why the defendant is worthy of mercy. It would not serve a defendant’s interest to minimize culpability, or to blame anyone.

If referring to the criminal conduct at all, the sentence mitigation plan should focus on some key points, including:

  1. Show an understanding and an appreciation for the victim’s pain, suffering, or loss.
  2. Show influences that led the defendant to become involved in the instant offense.
  3. Show what the defendant has learned from the experience.
  4. Show what steps the defendant has taken to reconcile with society, the victims, and his community to make things right.
  5. Articulate a coherent plan to show why the defendant will never break the law again.

If you have questions simply call or text me at 818-424-2220. You can also send an email to


Justin Paperny

P.S. You can still access our character reference letters course.