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 Tactics for a Lower Sentence 

Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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The government has made an abundance of financial resources available to small business owners. Some people did not understand how their decisions in applying for government funds could lead to criminal charges for fraud. To help those people, we offer an article with strategies and tactics to get a lower sentence. People that do not know how or why authorities are charging them with a crime will derive value from reading our article on Strategies and Tactics to Get a Lower Sentence.

In an effort to help people learn strategies and tactics to get a lower sentence, I thought I would share what I learned.

My name is Michael Santos. In 1987, a grand jury indicted me. After a trial, a jury convicted me, and a judge sentenced me to serve a lengthy sentence. If I would have known more lessons at the start of my journey, I would have engineered a better path, using strategies and tactics to get a lower sentence.

Here Was the Problem that Led to a 45-Year Sentence:

The first problem, for me, was that I didn’t understand the seriousness of the offenses I was committing. I was 20 years old. We were at the start of the War on Drugs when I began selling cocaine. At the time, I didn’t understand that authorities would consider my crime to be of the greatest severity. I deluded myself into believing that if I didn’t get caught with cocaine, I wouldn’t get in trouble.

Authorities caught friends of mine. In an effort to get a lower sentence, they cooperated against me. When authorities arrested me, I wanted to believe that my lawyer could solve my problems. He told me what I wanted to hear rather than what I needed to hear. Despite knowing I was guilty, I went through trial. I perjured myself on the witness stand, making matters worse. The judge sentenced me to 45 years.

Between 1987 until 2013, I served time in prisons of every security level. Lessons that I learned during that journey, and since my release, can help others develop strategies and tactics to get a lower sentence.

What Happens When People Don’t Understand Sentencing?

Few people understand the criminal justice system or sentencing. If a person has never gone through an arrest, a process that leads to conviction, or a sentencing hearing, a person doesn’t have any personal insight or experience.

The defense lawyer may or may not take time to explain the process that leads to sentencing. Our team at Prison Professors has worked with thousands of people that faced a sentencing hearing. When they asked their lawyers for guidance, the lawyers did not take time to explain. Or lawyers told the client that it was way too early to think about sentencing.

In my case, the lawyer representing me told me that there was a big difference between an indictment and a conviction. With conviction rates that exceed 80%, he knew that he was misleading me. If federal authorities bring charges against a person, a sentencing hearing is likely to follow. A simple Google search will yield results on the relationship between federal charges and federal sentencing hearings.

In any event, since criminal charges will bring lifelong consequences to a person, the person should take time to learn. Lawyers may want to postpone the process. First, the lawyers may want to go through a discovery process. They will want to review the evidence the government would present. In some cases, they may want to review hundreds or thousands of emails. They may want to research. They may want to bill for hundreds of hours before they write lengthy letters that do not answer the most important question for a person facing charges for a crime:

  • What is going to happen to me?

If a person doesn’t understand sentencing, a person cannot make good decisions. A person should know every option from the start of the process. The sooner a person learns about sentencing, including the risks that could lead to a lengthier sentence, or the opportunities to work toward a lower sentence, the sooner a person can start to plan.

Many people do not view themselves as being criminals. At the time that authorities charged me, I did not view myself as a criminal. And yet I knew that I was guilty. As human beings, we see ourselves as good people. We minimize our exposure to problems.

In many cases, good citizens get trapped into the system. Those people would like to believe a number of things:

  • The matter should not be a crime.
  • The matter would be better served in civil proceedings.
  • If authorities knew the person’s intent, they would not have brought the charge.
  • Since the person didn’t mean to harm anyone, the government should not have brought the case.
  • The system only puts bad people in prison, not good people.

Either way, the sooner a person learns about how the system operates, the sooner a person can begin to play an active role in engineering strategies and tactics to get a lower sentence. If a person wants to get a lower sentence, the person should use the same strategy that others use to accomplish anything meaningful:

  • Start by defining success.
  • Put a plan together.
  • Put priorities in place.
  • Develop tools, tactics, and resources.
  • Execute the plan.
  • Hold yourself accountable.

The First Strategy: Define Success

Consider the criminal statute and the potential sentence. In the federal system, the statute identifies the potential length of the sentence. A second prong, however, would be to understand the federal sentencing guidelines. The link below offers an article to provide a basic understanding of the federal sentencing guidelines:

If a person understands sentencing exposure, a person can start to consider the best possible outcome. A statute may cap a sentence at five years, 10 years, 20 years, or 40 years. Some statutes, like the statute for identity theft, has a mandatory minimum sentence. Statutes for identity theft also require a judge to impose the sentence consecutive to any other sentence.

The more knowledge a person has about the downside of a sentence, the better decisions a person can make. The more a person understands about options, the more effective a person can design tactics to succeed.

In defining success, a person should use a simple SWOT analysis:

  • What strengths exist to bolster a case for leniency?
  • What weaknesses will the prosecutor exploit to ask for a longer sentence?
  • What opportunities exist for mitigation?
  • What threats loom on the horizon that could undermine a request for mercy?

If a person puts all of the faith in a lawyer, the person is weaker. A more prudent person would define success, then define a deliberate strategy to advance.

Tactic 1 to Get a Lower Sentence—Put a Plan Together

When authorities bring a criminal charge against a person, the person’s status changes. In an instant, the dehumanizing begins. People that work in the system will consider the person a “defendant” and not an individual. Many stakeholders in the system will view the person as if he or she is a cog in a machine. To the individual, the change will feel abrupt. In many cases, the person will not grasp what happened:

  • Prosecutors will view the person as a liar, or a bad person.
  • Probation officers will consider the prosecutor’s version of events.
  • Defense attorneys may look at the person as a revenue stream.
  • Friends may want to disassociate themselves.

To get a lower sentence, a person needs to understand how the status has changed. In many ways, a person has gone into a personal war. In a war, a person should consider the long game, asking a few questions:

  • What is the best possible outcome?
  • What resources will my opponent have?
  • What resources will I have?
  • How do the decisions I’m making today influence my options?

Every individual has questions. Life has changed. Understand that life has changed. Then figure out how to succeed anyway. As Mick Jagger sang:

  • You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.

Success will come in getting the best possible outcome, given the situation at hand. Start by defining success realistically. Don’t pursue a fantasy. Put a deliberate plan in place.

Tactic 2 to Get a Lower Sentence—Put Priorities in Place

In most instances when authorities bring a criminal charge against a person, a sentencing hearing will follow. For that reason, we encourage people to design a mitigation strategy. That mitigation strategy should include multiple stages, including:

  • Stage 1: Before the charging decision. What should I do to influence the way authorities charge me?
  • Stage 2: After the charging decision. What should I consider when it comes to the pleading decision?
  • Stage 3: Before the presentence investigation. In what ways can I influence the presentence investigation report to work more favorably for me?
  • Stage 4: Before the sentencing hearing. How can I sow seeds today to differentiate myself at sentencing?
  • Stage 5: While in Prison: How can I build a record that will lead to my earliest possible transition from prison to home confinement?
  • Stage 6: What seeds can I sow to influence a higher level of liberty, at the soonest possible time?
  • Stage 7: What should I do now to prepare for the collateral consequences that follow for any person that faces a criminal charge?

A person facing a criminal charge should put a mitigation strategy in place in response to each of those questions. The sooner a person begins to prepare, the sooner that person will restore confidence and start making changes to succeed.

Tactic 3 to Get a Lower Sentence—Develop Tools, Tactics, and Resources

If a person wants to succeed at anything, a person needs to pursue a methodical approach. When launching an academic journey, for example, a person may invest time and energy to learn more about how to score well on entrance exams. A person may learn how to differentiate himself or herself from others. Likewise, if a person wants to launch a business, the individual may begin by researching a number of factors, including competition, customer pain points, unique value propositions, capital requirements. Without doing that research, a person cannot put a business plan in place.

Similarly, if a person wants to engineer tactics to get a lower sentence, the person had better research. Think about the different stages of mitigation. Then work toward developing tools, tactics, and resources that will persuade a judge to exercise mercy at sentencing.

Finally, a person should understand the judge’s sentence represents a starting a point. The person should contemplate mitigation strategies that can restore liberty at earlier times. For example, consider the case of Branden. Don’t take our word for it. Listen to Branden’s describe his journey:

  • A government investigation lasted for longer than one year, costing millions.
  • Prosecutors threatened to bring charges that could expose Branden to 20 years in prison.
  • Branden developed tools, tactics, and resources that led to a sentence of 37 months.
  • Branden’s strategy led to his being transferred from federal prison to home confinement within 11 months of the day that he reported to prison.

In what ways are you developing tools, tactics, and resources that will lead to your highest level of liberty, at the soonest possible time?

Tactic 4: to Get a Lower Sentence—Execute the Plan

Many people talk about wanting to put the problems behind them. In business, I’ve heard leaders use the phrase “happy talk.” We want to minimize the use of happy talk. Instead, we need to act deliberately.

To get a lower sentence, and to get back on track after a criminal charge, a person needs to learn everything possible about the system. A person needs to plan, then execute the plan, and develop accountability strategies to measure progress.

These are the lessons that I learned while climbing through a 45-year sentence. You can read about those lessons by downloading a free copy of Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Prison Term.

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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