Howard Snader 2013-10-25 12:01:48
Allocution Letter: Preparing For Your Statement To Th e Court Your client has been charged with a crime. Either the court or jury has adjudged him guilty by a plea agreement or verdict. Now he is standing before the court for sentencing. Face it, in many cases we may do very little to prepare a client for sentencing. And, when the court asks your client if they have anything to say, how many have even thought of preparing their comments ahead of time. I try to prepare my clients for sentencing. I provide them with a letter that touches on the following points: First, I tell them that they have the right to provide an allocution when they are before the court for sentencing. Then, I explain to them that allocution is just a fancy legal term that means they have a right to make a statement to the court. They can elect to not say anything to the court. And, I always make sure they understand that saying the wrong thing could make matters worse. If your client is facing a discretionary sentencing range of jail or prison, you may wish them to make a statement to the court. If the sentence is stipulated, though, you must be very careful. A defendant’s statement in that situation may cause the court to doubt the stipulated terms. If your client decides to make a statement, there are a few do’s and don’ts. Simply stated, they should avoid the clichés. DO APOLOGIZE I tell my clients that an apology is always appropriate. However, it must be sincere. If it comes from the heart, everyone will know it. When speaking from the heart, it is appropriate for a client to be emotional. They should not hold back their emotions. If it is sincere, everyone will understand and appreciate their honesty. It is OK to be scared, OK to be nervous, OK to be humble, and OK to be contrite. Their future is literally in the hands of the judge. They should be prepared to state how they will change their behavior. They should be specific. What changes will they make? When will they make them? How will they make them? They should explain specifically and realistically their goals for the next year, five years, and long term. Again, this takes some time to think through. The more thoughtful and specific they are, the stronger their statement will be to the court. If your client stands up and tells the court that they are “taking full responsibility,” then make sure they know what they mean. One of these days, I would not be surprised if a judge should turn to my client and ask how they are taking full responsibility. That is the question they need to address. How they are taking responsibility requires them to make an affirmative, positive statement about their wrongful conduct. They must give the answer some thought. How has their conduct affected the victim? Can they imagine the violation the victim has gone through, the changes in their daily routine, their need to always look over their shoulder, etc? DON’T STAND ON A SOAP BOX While I recommend that my clients give sincere apologies, there are limits. Being overly apologetic, like giving a general apology to the court, prosecutor, their lawyer, the court staff, etc, is never good. Any true apology is a direct and heartfelt expression of regret. That expression must be expressed and directed to the victim, not expressed in terms of regret that they were caught committing an offense. The one caveat would be if their true regret was being caught. Then they need to show it was a good thing, despite the pending punishment, since they can learn from their mistakes and no longer harm the victims. If the apology is not heartfelt, then they shouldn’t apologize. They also shouldn’t make narcissistic statements. These are the typical stale and rote comments such as: “I really want to see my daughter graduate from high school” or “I really want to walk her down the aisle.” Honestly, those statements do not work because they should have been thinking about those things as they were committing the offense. The “I have seen the light” speech also makes the list of what not to do. Clients should not state “I have seen the light” or “If you give me probation, you will have my guarantee you will never see me again.” Another example to avoid would be “I will talk to high school kids and counsel them to not go down the same road I went through.” These are not sincere statements because they have no clue at this time if they will receive the necessary counseling to fix their problems, let alone teach others how to avoid the same problems. Notice, I have said nothing about excuses. There are no good excuses or rationalizations. The bottom line is that they did commit the conduct that led to the plea agreement. They should not put the blame on anyone else. Their conduct was the result of choices. It is everyone’s hope that they have learned from the process, and as a result, will not commit any further criminal acts. DELIVERING THE STATEMENT The statement can be either long or short; it is not what they say, but how they say it. I have found short and concise is often best, but it is their only time to make their feelings and thoughts known to the sentencing court. They may wish to read from a prepared statement. There is nothing wrong with that. If they have already provided a letter to the court, I would recommend only speaking to the court if they have something additional to add. I always advise my clients that they should take time to consider what I have said. I tell them that it will take considerable time to piece together what they want to say. I also let them know that I am available to help them through the process if they decide to write a letter. If you would like a copy of the letter that I provide to my clients or if you would like help shaping your own, feel free to contact me. Born and raised in Phoenix, Howard A. Snader is a sole practitioner and board certified specialist in criminal law. Beginning his criminal law career in 1989 as a deputy county attorney, Mr. Snader has limited his practice to criminal defense for more than 20 years. Throughout Arizona, Mr. Snader has defended thousands of individuals accused of all types of misdemeanors and felonies including, but not limited to assault, fraud schemes, sexual offenses, DUI and all manner of drug related crimes. Cases are won with dedicated effort, preparation and skilled negotiation. Visit the website www.NotACriminal.com. For more information or to contact Mr. Snader please feel free to call (602) 957-3300 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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