Entering a Guilty Plea to a Federal Crime: Some Tips and Tricks

Friends (the 6 of you out there): you know that I am a criminal defense lawyer here in Atlanta, Georgia who specializes in defending people against federal criminal investigations and actual prosecutions.  I also handle cases throughout the country.  Many clients decide that their better option is to plead guilty.  Recently I met with a young man in the U.S. Military who decided to plead guilty, and we discussed some of the little things he can do to make the process go more smoothly, all with the goal of trying to convince the federal judge to impose the most lenient sentence possible.

TIP NUMBER ONE-dress appropriately.  I know, sounds simple, but we are trying to impress the Judge, and first impressions do matter.  Dress as if you are attending a religious service, a wedding or a similar formal event.  Avoid flashy jewelry and makeup.  When possible, cover tattoos with long sleeves, etc.

TIP NUMBER TWO-be prepared to admit you are guilty.  This one is often difficult, and goes against the grain for many people.  We are naturally reluctant to admit to our mistakes, especially in front of a Judge, but my experience over the many years is that clients who end up with the best sentences are the ones who clearly and honestly admit upfront that they screwed up and committed a crime.

TIP NUMBER THREE-answer clearly and loudly when the Judge asks you questions.  The guilty plea proceeding is always very stressful, and most people are not accustomed to speaking in a formal setting like court.  Many people in such settings mumble and speak quietly, but the key is to practice with the attorney and go over the Judge’s questions ahead of the hearing.

TIP NUMBER FOUR-ask your lawyer all your questions before the hearing.  It always looks bad to the Judge when the client and lawyer need to huddle together during the guilty plea proceeding because they forgot to go over something.  Be fully prepared whenever possible.  And the final tip is:

TIP NUMBER FIVE-remember that the guilty plea proceeding in federal court is NOT the final sentencing hearing.  At the guilty plea hearing the Judge does not want to hear why you committed the crime, only that you did actually do so.  Too many Defendants want to start their argument about why the Judge should be lenient with them during the guilty plea proceeding, and that never goes well.

Pleading guilty is stressful for people accused of federal crimes.  Make sure you use an experienced federal criminal defense attorney to guide you through the process, and remember some of these tips if that is what you end up doing.

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