Sentencing mitigation is an extremely important tool for criminal defense attorneys. The sentencing phase of the federal criminal justice system can make convicted people feel like the system is stacked against them.
The sentencing ranges under the guidelines are harsh, the law allows information that seems irrelevant to the underlying crime to be considered by the judge, and the federal sentencing guidelines themselves can be complex and confusing.
Experienced federal criminal defense attorneys understand the sentencing process and employ tested strategies to reduce the length of a defendant’s sentence. One of those strategies is called sentencing mitigation.
What is Sentencing Mitigation
Sentencing mitigation is the process of presenting evidence and arguments to a judge in order to persuade him or her to impose a more lenient sentence than what the guidelines suggest.
After all, the federal sentencing guidelines are advisory. This means that the sentencing judge can consider several factors that might justify a more lenient sentence. These can include:
- The defendant’s lack of any prior criminal history, or the absence of any convictions for violent offenses
- The defendant’s personal history and background, such as his or her upbringing, education, or employment history
- The defendant’s role in the offense
- The defendant’s expressions of remorse and independent efforts to make restitution.
Although mitigating evidence is often limited to documentary evidence, that information can be presented to the sentencing judge in a sentencing memorandum, character letters, and expert opinions, for example where mental health or past trauma plays a key role in offense conduct).
Why Does Sentencing Mitigation Matter?
Sentencing mitigation can have a significant impact on a defendant’s sentence. In some cases, it can mean the difference between serving decades in prison and serving only a few years.
Additionally, while some prosecutors will indeed offer mitigating evidence (especially where a defendant has cooperated in the government’s investigation and/or prosecution of others), no defendant should rely on the prosecutor to present the defendant in the best light possible.
That’s the defense attorney’s job.
In sum, federal sentencing mitigation is a powerful and necessary tool in any criminal prosecution. By presenting mitigating evidence and arguments to the sentencing judge, defense attorneys can underscore their clients’ humanity and make the best case possible for a more lenient sentence.