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 Prepare Before Sentencing 

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Michael Santos

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Learn how to prepare before sentencing. This article offers insight into the presentence investigation report and sentencing guidelines.

When federal prosecutors bring charges for any kind of crime, a federal sentencing hearing usually follows. Learn how to prepare.

The first step in preparation would be to learn all the steps in the process of sentencing. A defendant should understand that, soon after there is a guilty plea or a guilty verdict, a probation officer will begin an investigation for the purpose of preparing a report for the judge.

What Can I Expect at a Sentencing Hearing?

If a person has never gone through a sentencing hearing in the past, then it’s crucial to learn. Obviously, a person should prepare long before the sentencing hearing. That person should engineer an effective mitigation strategy that shows why he or she may be worthy of leniency. A person should build a compelling story showing the various ways that the person has brought value to society. Yet even if the person has done an outstanding job, a prosecutor may object.

Prior to my sentencing hearing, I laid out strategic ways that I intended to use my time to reconcile with society. That plan included the following clear steps:

  • I expressed remorse publicly for the bad decisions that led me into a courtroom, expressing empathy for the ways that my crime victimized society.
  • I defined success by helping the judge understand the principled pathway I would take to make things right, laying out the following steps:
    • Working to educate myself and earn academic credentials,
    • Working to contribute to society in meaningful, measurable ways,
    • Working to build a support network that would help me emerge successfully.

Despite those preparatory efforts to prepare before sentencing, the sentencing hearing did not go as I had hoped. My judge sentenced me to serve 45 years in federal prison.

Many factors contributed to the sentencing hearing going differently from the way that I had planned. One of those reasons: I did not understand what to expect at a sentencing hearing.

I encourage others to learn more about how a sentencing hearing proceeds before the hearing. A helpful article from a recent hearing that I attended:

Basically, expect the following steps:

  1. The sentencing judge will address discrepancies in the presentence investigation report.
  2. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney will argue their respective positions on the PSR discrepancies. The probation officer, and possibly the government investigator may offer evidence.
  3. The prosecutor will state reasons to support the call for a longer sentence.
  4. The defense attorney will state reasons for leniency.
  5. The person facing the hearing may make an allocution statement.
  6. The judge will issue a statement of reasons, make findings, and impose sentence.
  7. The judge will issue special conditions for supervised release.

If a person understands every stage of the journey, the person will be in a much better position to work toward a lower sentence.

One subject to understand includes the “Presentence Investigation Report.” This document will have an enormous influence on a person’s life. In addition to influencing the judge’s perspective before sentencing, the PSR will influence the journey through prison, and also the person’s prospects for early release, or liberty after release.

Female hands in cuffs

The Presentence Investigation Report (PSI and PSR)

After a conviction, the judge will order a Presentence Investigation. A probation officer oversees this process. The process results in a written report. The judicial system typically refers to the report as the PSR.

People that work in the prison system refer to this report as the PSI. Stakeholders refer to the same report as either the PSI or PSR. The presentence investigation report influences the sentencing hearing. Other articles in this series provide insight into the PSR.

the PSR report influences the sentence and everything that follows. Lawyers may focus on court proceedings and sentencing. Yet anyone convicted of a crime should know more. What relevance does the PSR have following the sentencing hearing? The report will influence the following proceedings:

  • Placement in the Bureau of Prisons
  • Access to programs in the Bureau of Prisons
  • Access to medical treatment.
  • Access to quarters assignments.
  • Exposure to violence.
  • Eligibility for programs that can lead to early release in the Bureau of Prisons
  • Eligibility for transfer to a halfway house
  • Eligibility for transfer to home confinement
  • Level of liberty on Supervised Release
  • Eligibility for early termination on Supervised Release

Some defense lawyers fail to prepare clients for the PSR report. Lawyers focus on court and sentencing. Then they move on. They may not realize how the PSR influences life in prison.

Defendants should learn everything there is to know about the PSI. Take appropriate steps to get the best possible outcome. By learning how to influence the PSR, a person can influence the journey ahead.

Sentencing Hearing

After the probation officer drafts the PSR report, both the prosecutor and the defense attorney can review the PSR. They can object and request revisions. The PSR will calculate the appropriate sentencing range.

In the federal system,, the range complies with the federal sentencing guidelines. State sentencing systems use a framework for judges to consider at sentencing, too.

The federal sentencing guidelines are advisory. They’re not mandatory. Still, federal judges typically use the guidelines as a starting point. Defendants should learn about the guidelines. The more defendants know, the better they can prepare to influence the sentence.

It’s impossible to change the past. We can sow seeds to build a better future. Start to prepare by reading guidelines. Read about sentencing decisions in different venues. If you can’t prepare, then hire someone to guide you. It’s obvious that a judge will consider the crime. A judge will also take the conduct of the offender into account. Title 18 of the US Code, section 3553, describes sentencing procedures. A federal judge considers the following factors:

  • The history and characteristics of the defendant.
  • The need for the sentence to:
    • Reflect the seriousness of the offense
    • Promote respect for the law
    • Provide just punishment
    • Provide for adequate deterrence
    • Protect the public from further crimes by the defendant
    • Provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, other correctional treatment in the most effective manner
    • Avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records.
    • Provide restitution to any victims of the offense.

How can a person use the factors above to prepare for sentencing? Think creatively. To the extent that a person anticipates those factors, he sows seeds. Those seeds can influence a better outcome.

The sentencing hearing will result in the judge making a ruling. That ruling may include time in prison. It may include a monetary fine or restitution order. It may include probation. It may include a term of Supervised Release. Learn the facts.

The American Bar Association provides some guidance. About 97% of all people charged in federal court plead guilty. Of those who go to trial, 25% prevail. Juries find 75% of people that go to trial guilty. When the feds charge a person with a crime, a sentencing hearing will follow. That happens 99% of the time. More than 85% of those people will serve time in federal prison.

Consider the statistics above. Prepare for sentencing wisely. Every defendant (and the defendant’s family) should learn. Research. Ask questions. Learn as much as possible.

Learn before the sentencing hearing. Take initiative if your attorney isn’t preparing you for sentencing. You can hire a guide to help you. Or you can research and learn and prepare for sentencing.

Our team at Prison Professors offers this guidance with hopes of helping people make better decisions. Preparing for sentencing should begin early, and people should think deliberately about steps they can take. For more insight, contact our team for guidance.

Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, works alongside (not in place of) civil and criminal defense counsel to help clients proactively navigate through investigations and prosecutions. Our team also helps clients prepare mitigation and compliance strategies.

If you have any questions or are uncertain about any of the issues discussed in this post, schedule a call with our risk mitigation team to receive additional guidance.

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