Over the next couple weeks or so I have decided to impart 50 free legal tips. Some of these tips will seem fairly obvious but they are all based actual events.
Number 6: At Sentencing, Do No Blame Others.
It is better to say nothing at all than to give some long-winded speech about how you broke the law but it is not your fault. Too often I hear defendants drone on about family problems, significant other problems, employment problems, etc. While these may be aggravating factors that led to the crime, leave it up to your attorney to carefully bring these items up. Remember: you are not a victim! The court does not want to hear them from you!
If you are going to say anything memorize these 3 points: 1. I understand that what I did was wrong; 2. I take full responsibility for my actions; 3. I am committed to showing the Court, the community, and my family/friends that I can be a productive, law abiding, member of society - I will never be back here again. The key to this is that you have to then follow it up, if you say these 3 things, the court takes it easy on you, and you are arrested again in a year...you will not get an easy sentence the second time around!
If all else fails, don't say anything! Or just simply say "I am sorry for my actions." This is much better nearly 90% of the statements I hear defendants give on a daily basis.
Number 7: Don't Forget Your Wallet...
When running away from the scene of the crime, don't forget your wallet or other items that can be used to identify you. They will find you and quickly. Take a quick moment to collect all your belongings.
Number 8: Don't Look At Other Sentences And Try To Predict Your Own.
Every case is unique. The facts are unique, the defendant is unique...heck even the week the prosecutor or the judge is having on the day of sentencing is unique. Justice is not blind (as much as it should be...its just not). You can not look at the sentence someone else got and predict your own.
Nearly every client I meet with thinks that they have a pretty good idea what sentence they are facing before discussing the matter with me; If based upon my experience I think they may be facing a more sever punishment, clients are often upset...they feel as if the system is picking on them. They change their mindset to one of a victim being abused by a cold and unforgiving system of justice. Once you get into this mindset it is hard to get yourself out. This alone can lead you to a harsher sentence (see: Number 6). You are not a victim and you need to approach it that way.
Everyone wants to believe the court is about to take it easy on him or her because they are a good person. The facts of the case, criminal history of the client, nature of the charge, and who the client is (what kind of person) will be the primary factors in determining sentence. Talk with your attorney before you get your mind set on a particular sentence, it is much better to be prepared for a more severe sentence and have the court order something lesser than the alternative.
Number 9: You Are Not In California!
You are in Idaho! I-D-A-H-O! If you want to live in California/Washington/Oregon/Texas/Venezuela, do so!
It is not an excuse to say: "if I was in California this would not even be illegal" or "If I was in California I would be getting probation not jail time!" This may all be true. I know that marijuana is legal in California, sentences for certain crimes may be significantly reduced in California, probation is less stringent, etc. This is not an excuse!
About half of my clients feel the need to explain something about some other jurisdiction. If you are just venting, that is fine...although I would prefer you vent those frustrations to friends or family...but what other jurisdictions do has no effect on Idaho. And don't get frustrated with me! I did not write the law, the Idaho legislature did - write them a letter or call their office - I merely apply the law of Idaho to get my clients the best result I can.
Do not complain about this to the judge! They have heard it all. It will not help you at all, it just sounds like an excuse (See: Number 6).
Number 10: Serving A Good Probation For Half The Term Does Not Earn You A Gold Star!
If you are sentenced to 5 years of probation and after 3 years you get arrested on a probation violation...DO NOT expect the judge to do you any favors because you did not break the law for 3 of the 5 years.
People are expected to abide by the law - most spend their entire lives with little to no interaction with the criminal justice system. Not breaking the law for some period of time less than your full probationary term (2, 5, 8, years), will not earn you a lighter sentence. If you are sentenced to probation the court has already done you a favor, they have not sent you to prison/jail. The court has agreed to give you this much lighter sentence on the condition that you abide by the terms of probation and refrain from breaking the law. To the court, this sounds like a very reasonable request (even if you don't think so).
If you are back in front of the court for violating probation, no matter how long it took before you did so, the court will not be sympathetic. The court is concerned about releasing people back into the community who have made it clear they can not abide by the rule the rest of us live under. Probation is a chance to prove you can live under those same rules. If you violate probation the court will not give you a pat on the back for the time you served without breaking the rules, it will likely remove you from the community for some period of time and regret sentencing you to a probationary term in the first place.