Often the most important part of a case takes place after the conviction. In many cases, the defendant was not disputing what happened, but only how they should be punished for their mistake. It is not uncommon for this part of the case to have a very significant impact on the client. Unfortunately, too many attorneys do not spend the time needed to present their client to the judge in the best light possible.
At sentencing, the attorney’s job is to show the judge the client’s positive attributes and bring to light reasons why the client should be given a lighter sentence. Depending on the type of case, this can be a question of less prison time, less jail time, more lenient probation terms or fewer fines and costs. The more favorably the judge can look at the client and his or her behavior, the more likely it is that the client will receive a more reasonable sentence. There are many aspects of sentencing preparation which are highly important to the sentencing judge. Two of those aspects are the Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (or PSI), and the client’s independent documents.
The Pre-Sentence investigation report is completed for many offenses, but particularly crimes involving victims, such as assault or theft based crimes. After a conviction, the judge will order a PSI to be done. The client will be required to appear at an interview style meeting and assessment with a probation agent. At this interview the client will discuss the offense as well as their family and personal history. This is done to assess whether the incident was isolated or will likely occur again, as well as whether the client has addiction issues or other concerns which may require intervention or assistance. Once completed, this report is submitted to the judge to assist him in making his sentencing decision.
Unfortunately, many clients are unprepared for the experience of the PSI. Because the process is not explained to them, they may become uncomfortable or upset during the interview. They may also attempt to downplay their role in the incident, thinking that it may help them or being afraid that the truth will get them into more trouble with the courts. Many times this is not true at all. The agents who conduct the interviews are often pleased to see acceptance of responsibility, remorse, and truthfulness. Discussing what to expect from the probation agent and how to speak with them can sometimes make all the difference.
The next important thing to remember is to show the judge that the client is serious about the incident, and that he is addressing it in his life. It is also important to how that the client has redeeming qualities. Both of these can be done by talking to the client. Find out if he or she is in school, or working, or volunteering at a church. Get information from the people in their lives about them and what they do to benefit society. If appropriate, have the client collect documents to present to the judge showing aspects of his life, such as grades or work history. When presented with a person who is a valuable member of society, a judge may more carefully consider shorter, or alternative, sentences.
With these two little steps in mind, a lawyer can make a significant impact on the sentence of his or her client. Too many attorneys just show up and go through the motions, assuming that nothing can be done after a conviction. They feel as though they have lost. It is important to keep in mind that your client needs you through the whole process, and that the result of the sentencing can be even more important to them than their plea.