A federal judge sentenced Bob McDonnell to 24 months in federal prison for corruption. Prosecutors and the Probation Officer asked the judge to sentence the former governor of Virginia to a term of between 6 and 12 years. Instead, McDonnell received the lowest possible sentence.

What prompts a judge to reject a prosecutor’s request for a Draconian sentence? Is it a great lawyer? Certainly, good lawyering contributes. The most influential fact, however, is the defendant.

Defendants should begin working to qualify for the lowest possible sentence at the soonest possible time. That means long before the sentencing hearing. Look at the case of McDonnel. A jury convicted him and his wife of corruption. The members of the jury found that while he served as governor, McDonnell accepted gifts in exchange for “favors” or influential treatment that he gave to Jonnie Williams. When authorities began to question Jonnie Williams, he struck an immunity deal for himself in exchange for his testimony against McDonnell. That happens.

Yet Judge Spencer considered more than the corruption charge when he sentenced McDonnell. He also considered McDonnell’s good deeds. They included his philanthropy, his efforts to start a food bank, he work to restore voting rights for felons, his work to ease the burdens of others.

McDonnell brought several law-abiding citizens to testify as character witnesses during his sentencing hearing. They all urged the court to impose the lowest possible sentence. Then, Mr. McDonnell testified. Instead of deflecting blame, he pleaded for mercy. He expressed remorse and humility. He accepted responsibility. And he vowed to dedicate the rest of his life to atone.

When the judge imposed the two-year sentence, Michael S. Dry, the prosecutor, twisted his face in anger. Clearly, he did not want the governor to receive the lowest possible sentence. Prosecutorial careers are not made on the lowest possible sentence. Prosecutors advance their standing with headlines about maximum sentences.

What can you do to receive the lowest possible sentence?

If you’re convicted, what steps can you take to receive the lowest possible sentence? One strategy would be to rely on your lawyer. Another would be to retain a sentence-mitigation expert like Mr. McDonnell did. An effective sentence-mitigation expert crafts a narrative for defendants. That sentencing package will include testimonial references. The sentence-mitigation expert may produce character references who testify in court. An effective presentation may include video that highlights good deeds of the defendant. In some cases, the strategy may even include a biography that demonstrates the defendant is worthy of the lowest possible sentence.

Each defendant must make a decision of how important it is to build a case for the lowest possible sentence. In Mr. McDonnell’s case, his decision to invest appropriate time and resources made all the difference. Instead of serving the six to 12 years the government wanted, the judge imposed a two-year term.

Lowest Possible Sentence for Governor
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