What to Say to a Judge at Sentencing

The way in which you conduct yourself at a sentencing hearing is crucial to the outcome of your case. One of the most important things for a court to notice is that you are aware of the crime you have committed and that you are regretful of your actions. It goes without saying, but those who do not show remorse for the crimes they commit will likely receive a harsher punishment than those who do. Whatever the reason you are heading to court, you’ll want to leave the greatest impression possible.

With that in mind, our Denver criminal defense attorneys at WeedenLaw want you to know what to say to a judge at sentencing. In this post, we’ll cover what to say at a sentencing hearing as well as what not to say.

What Should I Say to the Judge at Sentencing?

Ultimately, a number of factors will determine the sentence you receive. This mostly includes the crime itself, your previous criminal record, the details surrounding your case, and how your case may have impacted others. However, in many situations, a good sentencing statement can make a big difference.

Outwardly demonstrating humility is the greatest approach to show that you have accepted responsibility for any wrongdoing and are interested in atoning for your crimes in order to make the victim whole. This is the most effective method to make you look more personable and regretful.

At the end of the day, a judge wants to hear three things: accountability, responsibility, and remorse. They also want to hear your reasoning. Why did you commit the crime in the first place? In addition to this, they want to hear what’s different now. Did you learn your lesson? How do we know you won’t commit another similar offense? If you’re reasoning for committing the crime was because you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, for example, you’ll want to make it clear that this won’t be a problem in the future. It’s not enough to say you simply won’t do drugs or drink anymore. You need to provide more detail: What was it that originally drew you to drugs and alcohol? What has changed to ensure that you never take drugs again?

It is especially important that if you had a criminal record prior to this conviction, you’re able to explain what has changed and how you’ve changed. Unfortunately, there is no manual that directly tells you how to answer these questions. You and your attorney should work together to develop the most promising answer and how you might convince a judge of its validity.

Things to Remember

  • Maintain a straightforward approach. Many people assume that sharing their life narrative will make them appear more human at sentencing. The truth is, the longer you babble on, the more likely a judge will begin to tune you out. Just get to the point as quickly as possible.
  • Remorse does not equal a sob story. You should not attempt to elicit sympathy from the judge. The judge will not feel sorry for you for committing the crime, he or she will feel sympathy for the victim (in the case that there was one). Playing the pity card will simply come across as a ploy to get off easy.
  • If you can help yourself, don’t cry. Crying at sentencing tends to irritate judges because it looks like you are simply trying to use emotion as a means to convince them. A judge can spot fake tears from a mile away, and they do often. If you genuinely can’t stop yourself from crying and the tears are in fact genuine, the judge will also likely notice. 
  • Don’t make excuses for your behavior. Blaming it on someone or something else does not deflect your responsibility. It simply shows that you are not accepting that responsibility.
  • While it may seem like having your children come up to speak at your hearing will shed things in a different light, this is not the case. Do not have your children come to speak in the courtroom on your behalf. In fact, it is best not to allow them in the courtroom at all, especially if they are very young. This simply looks like another means of gaining sympathy. Judges also consider defendants who bring their children to see them punished to be, at the very least, irresponsible.
  • Do not appear to court wearing a uniform of any kind. Whether you’re in the military, a firefighter, or any other uniformed profession, wearing it to sentencing simply looks like an attempt to sway the judge and/or jury. The court will not have pity for you no matter what you do to gain sympathy.
  • Rather than playing the sympathy card, show empathy instead. Make it clear to the members of the courtroom that you recognize the damage you’ve caused and the pain you may have put others through. Above all, accept responsibility and show remorse for your actions.

Allocution Meaning: What is an Allocution?

Following a guilty plea, a defendant is usually given a formal chance to address the court to show regret and explain personal circumstances that may be taken into account at their sentencing. This is an allocution statement. An allocution statement allows offenders to take responsibility, humanize themselves, and potentially reduce their sentences. This statement cannot be cross-examined by the prosecutor. Rather, it is your final opportunity to address the court in the most appropriate and convincing manner possible.

Allocution also helps the judge determine whether the plea and charge have a sufficient factual foundation. It helps establish that the guilty plea was knowingly and willingly made.

How to Prepare for an Allocution

Many people are unaware of how important their statement is. They assume that the evidence against them is the only thing that matters in their sentencing. The truth is, while the evidence does play a big role in the grand scheme of sentencing, so does the defendant’s behavior. The best way to observe a defendant’s behavior and listen for signs of remorse is through the allocution. That is why it is always a good idea to prepare for this statement.

Writing out what you want to say ahead of time is typically the best approach. Having a full statement drafted is ideal, but at the very least, you should have notes prepared. There is too much riding on this to simply leave it up to chance. After all, it is your future that’s on the line.

Your attorney will be able to review your drafted statement ahead of time and give input and feedback. They may also help you reword or revise your statement so that it offers the most favorable outcome for you. That way, you can avoid any potential pitfalls, as you don’t get a do-over for what you say at sentencing. 

It is also a good idea to run through the statement multiple times before sentencing with your attorney. Practice what you are going to say without making it seem too rehearsed. You don’t want to appear as if you are reading from a script, but you also don’t want to appear disingenuous.

Contact WeedenLaw For More Advice on What to Say to a Judge at Sentencing

While this post provides a good basis for what you should do and say (and NOT say) at a sentencing hearing, it is best to speak with an experienced defense lawyer who can offer more personalized advice based on the facts of your case. For example, what you should say to a judge at sentencing for a murder trial is going to be vastly different than what you say for a drug crime sentencing in Colorado

At WeedenLaw, our skilled Colorado criminal defense lawyer Jeff Weeden has handled nearly every type of criminal case. He knows the best practices for allocution statements and how best to get his clients to show accountability, responsibility, and remorse. Once he has more information regarding your specific circumstances, Weeden will be able to help you fully prepare to speak at your sentencing. For personalized advice and unmatched defense, call 720-307-4330 or fill out our online intake form to schedule your consultation today.

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