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The Best Way to Handle Your Own Sentencing Hearing

I am limiting my comments here to misdemeanor drunk driving & drug possession cases.  (Don’t try handling your own felony cases either, folks)

Let’s face it.  While a significant percentage of these cases are “bogus”, and should never have been brought, the vast majority of these cases DO have a basis in fact/law, and a significant majority of THOSE cases are disposed of by plea bargain.

However, you will likely never be able to fight the misdemeanor drunk driving & drug possession case, which should never have been filed, without a lawyer’s help.  As to those cases that seem to move inevitably, toward a plea, you will need a lawyer, to help you get the best deal available.  There is a big difference, in what Prosecutors and the courts will give represented v. unrepresented people.

Get a lawyer, and yes, call me.  Jon Frank.  877-FRANK-LAW

It is unlikely that you will find yourself unrepresented in a criminal case, because the Courts will offer you court-appointed counsel.  They are actually anxious to get you a court-appointed attorney, because they do not want to see your case visit their courtroom again, on appeal.  That might happen, where the first time around, you were denied your right to an attorney.

But let us say, that you find yourself approaching a sentencing hearing, without the benefit of an attorney.

My first piece of advice is to see what you can do, to turn back the hands of time.  Yes, I am being a bit sarcastic here, because we all know, that we cannot go back in time.

However, I am not being completely sarcastic.  The time to start preparing for a sentencing hearing, particularly one where we know that a finding of guilt is likely, is immediately after the offense.  Even before getting a lawyer.  ESPECIALLY before getting a lawyer.  The benefit to starting some concrete steps, before retaining a lawyer, is that it looks like you took responsibility for your actions, and did not merely “follow the program”, because your lawyer told you to do so.  That’s not to say that “following the program”, on the advice of counsel is a bad idea; if you have hired a lawyer, it makes sense to follow their advice.  However, it always looks better if it looks like you took concrete constructive steps on your own, without having to be told.


Lawyers vary in their opinions on whether a client should be advised to pursue counseling, or Alcoholics Anonymous.  Some believe that it is effectively an admission by the client, to the Court system, that the bust was good, and that the client really does have all of the problems the Prosecutor says he/she has.

I take a different view.  I believe that Prosecutors and Judges will go more leniently on a client in a sentencing hearing, when the client can truthfully say, that they have been in counseling since shortly after the arrest, or that they have been attending AA.  I urge clients to go, candidly, to try to influence the judge at time of sentencing.

On the subject of AA, I cannot say that I myself have been a big believer in it; clients are often uncomfortable in AA groups, where religion is discussed.  Many clients in on misdemeanor drunk driving or drug use/possession really do not have drug/alcohol problems, and they go to AA to influence a judge.  They don’t feel like they belong in an AA meeting, because they probably don’t belong in an AA meeting.  Of course, judges don’t really know if the client belongs in AA or not, and they default to sending them, thinking that it cannot hurt.

Statistics are tough to come by, as to the effectiveness of 12-step programs, like AA/NA, due to the anonymous nature of the groups.  However, there are some studies showing that AA/NA programs are effective, and that is why judges keep ordering them.  I am linking to some studies here, here.  Whatever the case, AA/NA will be around for awhile, and you need to think about how your attendance can help favorably influence a judge at the time of sentencing.

Timing is everything here, too.  If I can say, as your lawyer, that you were in counseling, before you even retained me, this goes a long way toward convincing the judge to go easier on you.

Make sure that all of your counseling and attendance at AA/NA is documented.  Your mere word will not be sufficient.  Everything, from your attendance at counseling sessions, AA/NA, to your payment of fines, and your compliance with community service requirements, must be documented.  On papers you can show a judge.

Do It Early

Whatever requirements the court imposes on you, at the time of the guilty plea, make sure you are in full compliance.  If you are not, you can bet the judge will take it out on you, at the time of sentencing.  If there are deadlines or time limits, make sure that you can document you did EARLY, whatever the judge ordered you to do.  Not just on time, but early.

That includes payment of fines, presenting for urine/blood testing, fingerprints, community service, probation appointments, etc.  Anything & everything.  Early.

Say Nothing – Or At Least As Little As Possible

“OK, Jon, I know all that, but what I need to know is how to handle the actual hearing”

As your attorney, if I were appearing for you, I would marshal the facts to present you in the best possible light for sentencing.  I might file a Sentencing Memorandum.

After I give the Judge my pitch, on your behalf, the Judge usually turns toward the client, and asks if he/she has anything to add.  I counsel the client at this point, to offer their apologies, say it will never happen again, and to then shut up.

The judges sometimes get aggressive with the client, and say something like, “you BETTER have something to say!” When that happens, the judges do not want to hear from me, and I counsel people to have something good to say.  At the very least, you should be able to tell the judge that “nobody could feel worse about the situation”, than you.

However, if you find yourself alone at a sentencing hearing, you will probably be reminded yet again, by the Judge, that you have a right to an attorney at this stage of the proceedings.

However, if you are alone, you will discuss what you have done, to earn the judge’s leniency.  Not what you say you will do, if the judge goes easy on you, but what you have done.  Done.  Past tense.  Documented.  AA/NA.  Counseling.  Personal factors that you think should make the judge go easy on you, better be documented; you are the only one to take Grandma to the doctors and the grocery store, etc? Better be able to somehow prove it.  As someone who did those things for his Grandma, I know that will not be easy.

Demonstrate to the Court, that you are not like the vast majority of people coming into sentencing hearings.

  1. Dress like a prospect, and not like a suspect.
  2. Speak respectfully, and clearly.
  3. Say what you need to say, and then say nothing more.
  4. Make darn sure that everything you say is true, or you WILL be going to jail.


In the final analysis, you should never go into court unrepresented, any more than you should attempt to take a stroll in the middle of a busy freeway.

Get a lawyer, and yes, call me.  Jon Frank.  877-FRANK-LAW.

Not sure whether you should handle your own sentencing hearing?

Contact me, and we can go over the pros and cons

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Using the Widmark formula, as breath alcohol testing machines do internally, and mechanically, you can calculate the anticipated blood alcohol level one would expect from consuming a certain amount of beer, wine, or hard liquor. One can also calculate how many drinks of different types of intoxicant, it would take to elevate one’s blood alcohol level to a given number. Constants are built into this well-accepted formula, to account for physiological differences between men and women, and between heavier and thinner people... Continue reading.

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