For you readers you here in Atlanta, those in Macon, Gainesville, Savannah, Athens, and Valdosta in Georgia, and others around the country who know I handle federal criminal cases just about everywhere, this is a post about the sometimes dreaded and often misunderstood “sentencing hearing” in federal criminal cases. I am working on a few this afternoon, and wanted to discuss four pitfalls, and some tips, to make the process go more smoothly for the client and the attorney.
A Judge’s clerk will set the date for the sentencing hearing when the client pleads guilty, or in the unfortunate situation where the clerk reads the dreaded one-word jury verdict (“guilty” instead of the happier sounds of the two-word “not guilty”). This is generally 2-3 months down the road. Pitfall Number One: remind the client that he or she must still be on their best behavior, no matter how down or depressed is the client after pleading or being found guilty. The key is to arrive at sentencing with a life that is worth living, so the attorney has a story to tell and why the sentence should be the shortest interruption possible for that client’s life.
Next comes the interview with the U.S. Probation Officer (the “PO”) who has the task of researching and then writing the Presentence Investigation Report (the “PSR” in our lingo). Pitfall Number Two: please, please, please, I never again want to hear about an attorney who lets his or her client attend this interview alone. Tip: experienced federal criminal defense attorneys have been through dozens (or if the lawyer has done this as long as me, several hundred) of these interviews. Experienced federal criminal defense attorneys know what to expect, and we spend a significant amount of time prepping the client to avoid mistakes when communicating with the PO. The biggest problem the client can make is to lie when speaking with the PO, so prep to avoid any of that.