Every criminal lawyer ends up advising their client about talking to the judge at some point. A lot of people think that we lawyers tell our clients what to say. I don’t. I tell my clients to just speak from the heart.
Every criminal lawyer ends up advising their client about talking to the judge at some point. This usually comes up in the context of a sentencing. I think a lot of people think that we lawyers tell our clients what to say and maybe some do. I certainly don’t but I do have a couple of simple pieces of advice about this. First of all, you do want to take that opportunity. You do wanna talk to the judge because you want the judge to get a glimpse into who you really are. And second, speak from your heart because you want the judge to get a glimpse of who you really are. The reason for this is really human nature. People who are accused of crimes are demonized.
People who are guilty and talking to the judge at that point are demonized even more and that judge is gonna need some help to get past the crime that a person’s been convicted of, perhaps to get past some of the things that the prosecutor has said about them or maybe even what the victim of a crime has told that judge. So they need that help to put the situation into perspective to actually render a fair sentence. Now, to be sure, most of this is the lawyer’s job. We’re the ones who have to put all the pieces together and assemble it for a judge to be able to do their job well. But this opportunity to talk to the judge on the part of the defendant, this is a rare opportunity to give us, the lawyer, somewhat leveler ground on which to make the argument on our client’s behalf.
So we take that opportunity whenever it’s offered. So what do I do with my clients? It usually starts with a pretty long conversation. I’m asking to get in touch with their own thoughts, their own feelings, about what got them into trouble. It’s really important that they not make excuses. That won’t go over well. I’ve got a blog post on the things that you don’t say to a judge. But this question is, what do you talk to the judge about? Talk to the judge about your thoughts about the crime. Don’t just tell them what you think about it but tell them how that reflection has changed you. Talk to the judge about the things that you’ve done to try to make it better since you committed the crime but don’t just talk about the things you’ve done like it’s a list. Tell them how that effort has actually effected you. Talk about the things you’ve learned in the process and not just, “Crime don’t pay,” or, “That ain’t me anymore.”
Talk about perhaps one unique realization that you’ve come to while you’ve reflected on the crime you committed. Maybe it’s a short story about a chance encounter you had with somebody who knew about the charges you had and the effect that, that had on you. We often get friends and family to write letters of support that we’re offering from the judge. My clients need to read those letters and perhaps the discussion with a judge had to do a little bit about what they learned in reading what they’re own loved ones had to say about them. The statement doesn’t need to be long. It needs to be real. It may take a few minutes but it may only take 60 seconds. Don’t read from a script. If it helps you to organize your thoughts then write it down by all means but when it comes time to talk to the judge just speak directly to that judge.
Trust that if you forget something that was in your script, so to speak, it’s not gonna be that important anyway. At the end of the day, you’re trying to make that connection with a judge, give that judge just a glimpse, as I said before, of who you are and leave the rest to your lawyer.
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