Prisonology interviews Jack Donson, Bureau of Prisons Case Manager - Retired, on what to expect on day a federal judge sentences a defendant to prison.
Federal courts have an established procedure for conducting sentencing hearings for defendants. While it is a difficult day for defendants and their families, understanding the proceeding and knowing what actions to take during the hearing are important. This section prepares you for court so that you can have input into the hearing that will affect your life.
If you are going to give a statement, make sure that you read from prepared notes and stick to those notes. Your attorney should approve any statement that you will make.
Your attorney should have the name, security level and location of the prison where you will serve your time. Be very specific as to the name and security level of the prison.
Have your attorney ask the Judge to make a recommendation for participation in the “500 Hour Residential Drug and Alcohol Abuse Program,” if it is something that you are interested in participating in while in prison and if substance abuse was noted in your PSR.
For self-surrender, your attorney should have a date recommendation for the judge with a date on which you would like to surrender. The date recommended should be on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday approximately 6-8 weeks from the sentencing date.
When submitting letters to the judge, make sure they are addressed to the judge but they are submitted to your attorney. Positive letters from family, friends and social leaders are all important factors in influencing a judge's sentencing decision. The number of letters written on your behalf is not as important as the quality of the letter. Letters from community leaders who are not related to the defendant can carry a lot of weight.
Having friends and family members in the Courtroom gallery is one way to visibly demonstrate your family support and character to the judge.
Be as prepared as possible about the proceedings. Sentence hearings can last over an hour and you will hear both positive and negative comments about you. Keep you composure.
Have your lawyer ask the Judge to waive interest on any Court ordered payments (e.g. restitutions, fines, assessment), if there are any and if your financial situation reflects an inability to pay the amounts due in full.
If your sentence is over 11 years, 5 months (137 months) (a determinant for minimum security prison camps), have your lawyer ask the judge to recommend that the BOP waive the “Sentence Length Public Safety Factor.” While a long shot, it might get you into a prison camp instead of a Low.
Make plans in the event that you are taken into custody immediately (remanded). In many cases where a person has obeyed bail conditions, a judge will allow for self-surrender to prison but you need to be prepared for a worst-case scenario of going to prison at the end of the sentencing. This can happen in cases where the sentence is just a few years or many years. Have $300 cash in your pocket when you walk into the courtroom and if you are taken into custody they will put the money into a commissary account (used to buy phone, email, personal hygiene items).
K.W. (Inmate) Sentencing Day
"What I suggest anyone do to prepare for this day is to gather letters for the judge. You want the judge to see that besides this crime, that you were a productive member of society and loved by the community. The judge DEFINITELY reads these letters right before he walks out of the chambers, and actually read over a few of mine during the sentencing. It also doesn't hurt to have a positive member of society such as a pastor, professor or even an old boss speak on your behalf during your sentencing hearing. You want the judge to see that you are loved and well liked. I hate to admit it but I was a crying mess ..and when I say I cried I'm lying ...I WAS BALLING out of control, I was terrified, and to be completely honest I thought my life was over. I was barely able to speak and I was shaking uncontrollably. It feels like going to the principals office TIMES A THOUSAND!! Also make sure you say your goodbyes BEFORE you are sentenced, just in case they take you into custody:( I also wore triple pairs of socks to keep my feet warm because it gets cold in the hold-overs [jails] and this is about the ONLY thing they will let you keep). It was a good thing because they did take me into custody at the end of the sentencing. The only jewelry they let me keep was a wedding ring. The best way I say to prepare is to remember - It's not the end of your life, and prison is not THAT bad, YOU CAN AND WILL GET THROUGH IT! Plus if Martha Stewart did it ...SO CAN YOU! :)"
G.B. (Inmate) Sentencing Day
"Prior to my sentencing I went to the courthouse to see what a sentencing would be like. I watched two guys who both felt like they were innocent (they lost at trial) get sentenced to 12 years and 5 years respectively. If you get 10 years or less you can go to a prison camp. Actually, because good time is calculated right away, you can get a sentence of a little over 11 years and still be camp eligible (as long as you are considered non-violent).
I felt nervous going into sentencing but also extremely optimistic that I would get much less time than my guidelines called for and possibly only probation which would include volunteer work.
During the proceeding I was much more nervous because I saw the judge was not letting my lawyer speak and she interrupted him constantly. I could clearly see that the judge had a misperception of what I did and she did not even seem to fully understand what I did. I still held out some hope that when I got my sentence it would not be that bad. I was wrong. It was literary the worst case scenario. Nine years with guidelines of 9 to 11 years. The prosecution was asking for a low end of guidelines sentence and the judge gave them what they wanted."
J.L. (Inmate) Sentencing Day
"I prepared the best I possibly could mentally. I know I would be facing my two clients [victims] in a way that I had not in four years. I was relieved that my clients had the opportunity to tell me their feelings of disappointment, anger and frustration. I was happy for them because they had their day in court. I knew that I was going to hear their Victim Impact Statements. My attorney was very nervous about me speaking an apology in Court because he was afraid that I would not come across as myself, as truly sorry for what I had done. He felt this way because he said that after listening to the prosecution that I might be angry and this might affect my ability to deliver a sincere apology, which would hurt me in the Judge’s eyes.
To prepare for the day, I wrote down all the words I wanted to say to the Judge as well as my apology and everything I had wanted to say to my two clients that lost money as a result of my actions. So that statement was prepared in advance of sentencing day. I also made sure that my appearance and dress was appropriate for the day. I had a sport jacket on with slacks. I wanted to make sure people knew that I had been humbled and I dressed the part. My legal team put together a solid package for the Judge before the Sentencing, which they included with the Sentencing Memo. It included about 20 letters from family and friends. My kids wrote their own letters to the Judge as well as my wife. I was certainly very nervous and anxious going into the Sentencing. My wife was with me, something that my attorney thought was important. However, I did not bring my kids because I thought it was too much for them.
I am an optimistic person by nature, so I tried my best to keep my spirits up on this day. I also felt a great sense of relief that the day had finally arrived. It had been a little over 3 years since the FBI knocked on my door at 6:00am to get to this day.
I found the Judge to be fair and thoughtful and I have tremendous respect for her."
D.B (Female Inmate) Sentencing Day
I was scared and nervous as I was not aware that the prosecutor was pushing for six years! I felt that the prosecutors presented a lot of information that just wasn't true. I had to humble myself and throw myself at the mercy of the court.
When I was finally sentenced, I couldn't believe I was going to prison. I felt weak and thought I was going to pass out. I couldn't comprehend what was being said after I heard '42 months.' I even turned to leave the podium and exit the courtroom before the judge left the bench. I had to get out of that room and away from everyone.