Four Federal Judges Discuss Sentencing

 In Sentencing

Federal Judges and Sentencing

A few years ago UC Hastings Law School invited me to speak. I was one of several speakers. The other speakers included federal judges and law professors. A few prosecutors also spoke. I learned how judges want people to prepare for sentencing.

Four judges gave us their views on sentencing. The purpose of the symposium was federal sentence reform. Any defendant would benefit from the insight those judges offered.

To make it simple, I offer the top-ten takeaways on how to prepare for sentencing:


Judges stated that sentencing is difficult.

  • They want to get it right. They know that a criminal offense is one part of a person’s life. Too many times, they say, they do not know anything else. They would like more information on the defendant’s back story. What are you doing to provide that info?

Judges stated that defense attorneys could do a better job at preparing their clients for the sentencing hearing.

  • Judges are used to listening to defense attorneys express reasons on why a defendant is worthy of leniency at sentencing. When attorneys work with clients in ways to prepare them to express remorse in authentic, sincere ways, possibilities for leniency advance.

Judges stated that when defendants intend to address the court during the sentencing hearing, they should speak sincerely.

  • If defendants are going to address the court, they should do not read a prepared script. Instead, they should be ready to look the judge in the eye and convey that he is speaking heartfelt words with absolutely sincerity. If the defendant comes across as being “slick,” the defendant may hurt rather than help the proceeding.

Judges stated that defendants should provide some measurement that would help a judge gauge authenticity when expressing remorse.

  • Authenticity is measured with deeds rather than words. When a defendant invests the time and energy to show how deeply he has thought about the challenges and influences that led to his sentencing, he creates a counterbalance to assertions that he should expect from prosecutors and the probation department in the PSI report.

Judges stated that when defendants talk about finding God during the sentencing hearing, the judges find the defendants to be insincere and that the defendants may be invoking religion because of circumstance rather than sincerity.

  • New commitments to religion are personal in nature. Yet when defendants invoke their newfound commitment to religion during the sentencing hearing, they invoke skepticism from the bench.

Judges stated that if a defendant is going to speak, he should be able to show rather than simply express his remorse.

  • Whereas the defense attorney will likely speak eloquently about how the crime represents an aberration in the defendant’s life, the defendant can help the attorney by showing how heavily he or she has invested himself in reconciling with society for the crime.

Judges stated that a defendant should not ask for forgiveness because it is not the role of a judge to forgive.

  • Too frequently, judges indicate, defendants ask for forgiveness when they should ask for leniency. To forgive would mean to excuse the criminal behavior, and society charges the judge with different responsibilities. The more a defendant understands that role, the better the defendant can position himself for a better outcome.

Judges stated that a defendant should back up a request for leniency by offering reasons why leniency is warranted.

  • Every defendant wants the judge to impose a lenient sentence. Yet each defendant should ask himself what steps he can take to prove worthy of that leniency. He should strive to set himself apart from every other defendant who stands before the court.

Judges stated that a defendant should refrain from the urge to make excuses, shift blame, or appear as if he is a victim of circumstance.

  • The worst thing a defendant can do during the sentencing hearing would be to say that it isn’t his fault. If a defendant intends to utter such words, then it would serve him best not to say anything at all. From the judge’s perspective, the defendant has been convicted of a crime and the defendant must think strategically about how he intends to respond if he is going to respond at all.

Judges stated that a defendant should articulate a plan to show why he will not revert to criminal behavior again.

  • If a judge considers sentencing to be the most difficult responsibility, then the defendant should do everything within his power to ease the judge’s conscience. He should create a plan, a workable plan that shows how much thought he has put into his future. To the extent that he build a powerful narrative, he advances the possibility for leniency.


Through, we help defendants who want to invest the time and energy to position them for the lowest possible sentence. We help to position defendants to serve their time in the best environment possible environment. And we work with defendants to create highly individualized plans that will ensure they emerge with dignity intact, ready to resume successful careers as law-abiding citizens.

If you’re facing a criminal prosecution, contact us today. We can help you empower you or your lawyer to position you for the lowest possible sentence. Then, we can work to position you for the best possible experience in prison.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Bob

    Yes exactly. My son did every positive thing that you write about in the article. Even so, his sentence was still tough. But he knows people inside with much, much worse sentences for the same crime. I believe that it is important to learn as much as you can about the judge before your sentencing. I did a lot of research on his judge. I read symposium transcripts that were on line, read his other writings that were on line also, and learned that he was a judge that did not like the way the legislative branch of the government was treading on his turf, especially when it came to mandatory sentencing. I had my son read his writings so he would have an understanding of the man who had his life in his hands. So at his sentencing when he stood up and spoke of his remorse about his crime and what he had done since his arrest to deal with his problems, his ability to talk from his heart was helped by knowing a little bit about who this man was. He told me later that he felt like he was speaking to a stern old grandfather, not a total stranger.

    • Michael Santos

      It is my hope that your son uses his time wisely while inside the federal prison system. Although a judge may have sentenced your son to a lengthy sentence, your son has the power within to improve outcomes. I served multiple decades inside prisons of every security level. Yet times are changing, so I encourage you to have hope. Indeed, I urge you to inspire your son to work toward reconciling with society and building credentials that will advance his candidacy for relief. I’m convinced that relief is coming for those who work to build strong records. My best to you and your family.

  • T

    Timing is funny. Sentencing has already taken place about two weeks ago. Question:Do you empower crimnal public defenders or private criminal attorneys?

    • Michael Santos

      Through my work I strive to empower everyone. Listen to my podcasts at

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