Strong sentencing arguments are critical in every case. Every single case. Regardless of how you find yourself in a sentencing hearing – after a conviction by a jury or a judge, or through a plea agreement – your chances at being placed on probation or being locked up will often hinge on your attorney’s ability to advocate effectively and convincingly.
Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court Judge from New York shocked everyone when he chose to sentence a woman to probation rather than prison after she was convicted of serious federal drug offenses. Judge Frederic Block of the Eastern District of New York based his non-prison sentence on the severe collateral consequences that the defendant faced as a convicted felon; immediately and in the future. The consequences were especially harsh for the defendant, a college student studying to be a teacher, who had no previous criminal record. Her conviction made her ineligible for federal student loans and grants and she would have to change her major – convicted felons don’t often get jobs as educators. In fact, convicted felons have an often impossible time finding any employment, which was a major consideration for the court. The defendant in this case will not able to apply for a passport while on probation, which will make visiting her immediate family outside of the country impossible. These were just a few of the collateral consequences noted in the judge’s decision. There may be even more consequences for you.
The potential for collateral consequences of a conviction in any case, large or small, misdemeanor or felony, is exactly why you need to hire someone who will do more than just recite the facts at sentencing. Memos to the court prior to sentencing should be filed to really explain to the judge why your case is different – why you are different. A life history and interviews of family members can help a court to understand you as a person, not just as a defendant. Your attorney needs to identify these collateral consequences for the judge and fight hard to minimize the damage. Felony convictions are tough to overcome – give us a call if you’re looking for an attorney who will do more at sentencing.