Clients can best assist their attorneys by being completely honest and providing as much information about the offense as feasible. Unfortunately, some people do not receive this message until it is too late, resulting in increased expenses and fewer desirable outcomes.
The client must then, for the most part, wait for the attorney to apply a combination of art and science to arrive at the best possible result. Many defendants feel powerless as if they are puppets in the hands of others who control every aspect of their lives.
Despite the best efforts of attorneys to get a dismissal of the charges or an acquittal, convictions occur far more frequently than individuals realize. The Presentence Investigation begins after defendants are found guilty of felony charges in federal court. The sentencing date is usually set between 60 and 90 days following the conviction.
Unlike prior phases of the processes, where the defendant had to rely on counsel for direction, the defendant should be involved in the sentencing hearing preparation. Defendants who are ready to take initiative and think outside the box can be of great service to the defense attorney. When a defendant’s guilt is proved, or when he or she chooses to plead guilty, the defendant should consider various sentence-minimization techniques. The defense counsel will pilot the ship, but the defendant must furnish the necessary fuel for the attorney to make the most successful arguments during the sentencing hearing.
The well-prepared defendant will devise thorough measures for reducing his or her punishment. We believe that this effort is critical in furthering the potential of avoiding or lessening the severity of the punishment.
The options for sentence-minimization measures are virtually limitless. They necessitate ingenuity and expertise. The cost of hiring personal advice and help becomes prohibitive for many defendants as a result of the hundreds, if not thousands, of total man-hours required to construct a successful sentence-minimization plan.
Defendants who lack the financial means to engage legal counsel to assist them in preparing for sentencing are not without options. They merely need to draw on their own strength and intelligence.
The defendant must prepare for the sentencing date by:
• The ability to think creatively
• To employ all of his or her critical-thinking abilities
• Be able to persuade others through writing, and
• To create the most enthralling oral presentation in history.
We advise individuals to prepare since the sentencing hearing will have a significant impact on the defendant’s and his family’s lives. When our team is preparing a customer for a minimization package, we follow the processes below:
We aim to learn everything we can about a customer when we interview them. We’re hoping to locate something that can aid with the case. The information we acquire will be used to create a detailed biography that will hopefully persuade the court to inflict the least severe punishment feasible.
Any sentence-minimization approach must begin with that interview. That time is spent identifying the client’s skills, accomplishments, and support systems. The opportunity allows us to begin to comprehend the context of a person’s existence. Our goal is to find any issues that might assist us to understand, if not justifying, the actions that lead to the current situation.
We widen our understanding by asking open-ended questions and paying great attention to our clients. Of course, the goal is to persuade the probation officer who completes the Presentence Investigation Report, as well as the judge, to perceive our clients as more than the offense for which they were convicted.
Individuals who construct their own sentence-minimization packages, of course, will not be subjected to a never-ending barrage of inquiries from an inquisitive interviewer. However, this does not preclude the individual from conducting his or her own “interview.” A person who wishes to make the strongest case possible for a reduced sentence must learn the art of reflection. A defendant should think about all of the forces that shaped him into the person he is now.
During this period of reflection, the defendant must examine every part of his history seriously. One after the other, ask a series of questions. For the sentence-minimization technique, this time-consuming act of mining the mind and delving deep might yield gold.
Individuals who create their own package must exercise extraordinary discipline in thinking both linearly and abstractly, then place all of their views into a framework that will make a strong case for the least severe sentence feasible.
Begin the interview by asking questions like:
• Tell me a little about yourself.
• I’m interested in learning more about your family.
• What do you recall about your life’s early influences?
• Describe your motives for pursuing the job path you’ve chosen.
• How would people closest to you describe the values that govern your choices?
Obviously, the possibilities for inquiries are limitless. A defendant who decides to put together his own sentence-minimization package must be very disciplined. He will recognize patterns to the degree that he can reflect, ask questions, answer, reflect on the responses, and consider what other questions could arise. He’ll start to weave a story out of those patterns by writing them down.
The story might reveal the factors that shaped the defendant into the person he is today. Again, the goal isn’t to justify behavior that has been labeled as unlawful by others. In reality, a successful sentence-minimization plan would aim to demonstrate a willingness to take responsibility, contrition, and penance.
The sentence-minimization package should attempt to provide a more full picture of the individual, as well as a shared humanity. This effort can pay off big time at sentencing, especially if the package (provided indirectly through the defense counsel) helps the probation officer and judge see the prisoner as a person, not a criminal.
The goal of a sentence-minimization technique is to change the lens, or perspective, through which others perceive the offender. Although the defendant perceives himself as a spouse, a father, a brother, a son, a taxpayer, a professional, a coach, and a decent citizen, many in the system do not.
Defendants must keep in mind that probation staff and judges deal with criminal defendants on a regular basis. Those experiences may harden their perspectives, leading them to view all defendants with suspicion. In many circumstances, probation officials and courts are not sympathetic to well-educated white-collar criminals.
Individuals with professional backgrounds that others may perceive as being privileged must work exceptionally hard to craft a narrative to show reasons why a harsh sanction is inappropriate in their case; many within the criminal justice system have a tendency to believe that people of privilege should know better than to break the law.
Despite the fact that the court will never speak with the defendant, a good sentence-minimization package will make the judge feel as though he knows the factors that led to the defendant’s current situation. There are several ways to make a positive impression. The plan must be both clear and believable. Defendants who understand the complexity of the challenge will invest the time, energy, and resources to make a compelling, persuasive case.
Interviews yield treasure troves. Each interview should reveal new layers that further develop the redeeming qualities and characteristics of the defendant.
When a defendant is preparing his own package, he may want to make a list of all the people who willingly would testify to the good character of the defendant. Those people may include:
• All family members
• Teachers from childhood
• Fellow worshipers
• Volunteer recipients
• Business associates
A defendant who prepares his own package should be relentless in his pursuit of others who will validate his good character. He/she
should then prepare a list of questions that will reveal the following information from each character witness:
• As many details as possible that show:
o How the relationship began.
o Positive influence defendant has had on the character witness’ life.
o Contributions the defendant has made to build a better community.
o Level of support the witness pledges toward the defendant.
o Reasons why the witness is convinced that the least possible sentence is appropriate.
Defendants may find it awkward to interview their character witnesses in a face-to-face meeting. Nevertheless, they will serve themselves well if they can overcome their apprehensions. They must not underestimate the importance of investing the necessary time, energy, and resources to create an effective sentence-minimization strategy. The more character references an individual can summon, the more persuasive he will make his presentation.
Again, it is essential for defendants to remember that both probation officers and judges interact with people who’ve been convicted of crimes every day. Judicial officials routinely hear from defense attorneys who argue for lower sentences.
Accordingly, those within the system may become cynical of such arguments. For that reason, defendants must empower their defense attorneys by giving them ammunition to overcome that judicial cynicism.
Muster the discipline necessary to:
• Interview as many character witnesses as possible.
• Create a structured series of questions that will prompt the character witness to talk about the defendant’s positive qualities and contributions to society.
• Incorporate all of the information gathered into the sentence-minimization package.
Since relatively few criminal defendants will be able to summon scores of character references, those who take the time to prepare an effective package will stand out.
Take the next step toward creating an effective sentence-minimization strategy. That step begins with collecting records that would corroborate or support all that our narrative shows. After collecting those records that document and support the argument that a minimally invasive sentence is warranted, compile the narrative.
Ideally, when the defendant passes his sentence-minimization package to his defense attorney, he should provide a resource that allows the defense attorney to tacitly summon the Biblical message of: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Judges will rely upon the federal sentencing guidelines as a resource when determining an appropriate sentence. The range within those guidelines, in many cases, can be measured in years. A sentence-minimization package would go a long ways toward influencing the judge to perceive the individual as a fellow human being. The guidelines endow the judge with discretion, and factors that may be relevant to an argument for a lower sentence may include:
• Mental state of mind
• Emotional condition
• Substance abuse
• Physical condition
• Military service
• Financial circumstances
• Familial circumstances
• Community contributions
There is a history of case law that shows judges do in fact depart downward from guideline recommendation. In every one of those downward departures, someone has made a compelling, persuasive argument that the government vehemently opposed. The Supreme Court has mandated that judges must consider all minimization factors that are relevant to any purpose of sentencing. But if the defendant doesn’t raise those minimization arguments, then the judge will not consider them.
According to Title 18 USC, Section 3661: “No limitation shall be placed on the information concerning the background, character, and conduct of a person convicted of an offense which a court of the United States may receive and consider for the purpose of imposing an appropriate sentence.”
Judges frequently impose financial penalties in addition to incarceration when sanctioning defendants. All defendants who are convicted of felonies in federal court receive a felony assessment that currently amounts to $100 for each felony conviction; an individual convicted on 10 counts will have a $1,000 felony assessment that he must pay.
In addition, however, judges impose larger criminal fines or restitution orders on some defendants. And on occasion, they may impose a Cost of Incarceration Fee, which currently exceeds $28,000 per year of confinement. Defendants who were not able to pay such fees prior to confinement will face consequences in prison. Bureau of Prison administrators will pressure inmates who have financial sanctions to enroll in the Financial Responsibility Program (FRP). Inmates who choose not to enroll will endure harsher conditions while in custody.
The BOP will request increasing amounts of payments toward financial sanctions. If those payments will provide a hardship on the family, inmates may make a special request at sentencing. They should explain the financial hardship that incarceration will place on family finances. Then they may ask the judge to issue an order regarding payment toward the fine. Defendants who succeed in persuading the judge to issue such an order will not begin paying toward the fine until after release.
In the alternative, the defendant may ask the judge to write an order into the judgment that prohibits the BOP from taking more than the minimum payment of $25 per quarter toward compliance with the Financial Responsibility Program.
Once the individual perfects his sentence-minimization package, he should go over it in detail with his defense attorney. The defense attorney will then present the package to the judge. The judge will review the package, and by law, indicate that he has considered all factors. During the sentencing hearing, the defendant would be wise to invite as many character witnesses as possible to testify on his behalf. Finally, the judge will impose the sentence. He will memorialize that sentence in a document known as “The Judgment and Commitment Order,” or “J&C.” The defendant should begin taking steps to climb to a better life.
We urge those who are serious about wanting to serve the least amount of time possible to invest the time, energy, and resources on creating the most effective sentence-minimization strategy possible.
• Describe your strategy to ensure that you receive the lowest possible sentence.
• Why will your activities influence the judge?
• In what ways are you working to persuade others to support you during the sentencing process?
• How have you prepared your closest friends for the prospect of your incarceration?
• In what ways are you preparing your family members for the prospect of your incarceration?