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7 Life Hacks For Sentencing Hearings

For most people, the closest they get to a courtroom is watching reruns of Franklin and Bash -- the show where lawyer Zack Morris and skater-guy-from-Clueless party and drink all day. Not sure who greenlit that trash. Trust that a real life courtroom can be a scary place and that Mark-Paul Gossellar doesn't have time for your problems.

But at least Virginia Beach defense lawyers W&K have got your back. Even if you’re guilty as sin, we have some tips for your sentencing hearing that can help keep you out of the slammer.

1. Dress like Mr. Rogers

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that studies have shown that more attractive criminal defendants are sentenced more leniently. But what if you’re more Steve Buscemi than Brad Pitt? Are you doomed to an above the guidelines sentence? Not if you follow our advice. The idea at sentencing is to look like someone who is non-threatening. The advice from attorneys is often to dress “like you’re going to church.” Our advice is to dress like Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers is perhaps the least threatening man who ever lived. Wearing a cardigan with a tie is proven to instantly reduce testosterone levels by up to 83%. (Footnote: we made this up). For real though, you will instantly set yourself apart from the vast majority of criminal defendants by simply coming to court looking clean, decently groomed, and wearing a tie. If you can complete your ensemble with glasses and a gentle sweater, all the better.

2. Look Ashamed

I just read the following quote from Jerry Seinfeld in the New York Times this morning explaining his theory for why Louis CK has not been able to make a successful comeback from his sexual harassment scandal: “It’s the way he did it that I think people didn’t like...We know the routine: The person does something wrong. The person’s humiliated. They’re exiled. They suffer, we want them to suffer. We love the tumble, we love the crash and bang of the fall. And then we love the crawl-back. The grovel. Are you going to grovel? How long are you going to grovel? Are you going to cry?” That is exactly the behavior expected of criminal defendants at sentencing hearings. Studies have shown that defendants who appear “ill at ease” and “uncomfortable” are significantly less likely to receive death sentences in capital cases. Human beings respond to remorse so look like you’re sorry for fuck's sake! If you can shed an authentic tear, it usually doesn't hurt. Judges don't like to send blubbery messes to jail.

3. Say You’re Sorry

Looking like a sad mofo is a great start, but to take your "I'm a pathetic sack of total remorse" game to the next level, you're going to need to actually say you're sorry. Allocution is the defendant’s opportunity to speak before being sentenced. The best part about allocution is that the prosecutor doesn’t get to interrupt you or cross-examine you. But that last thing you want to do is deliver a limp apology a la Kevin Spacey. (Ummm, I don't remember doing horrible things to this guy when he was a young boy, but if I did it I was drunk. By the way, I'm gay). So what goes into a good apology? Follow the 5 Rs: (1) Recognition, (2) Responsibility, (3) Remorse, (4) Restitution, (5) Reform. Let me give you a short example: “I recognize that stealing from you was wrong and completely unacceptable. I accept total responsibility for stealing things that you worked hard to buy. I am so sorry that I put you through this. While I know there is nothing I can do to make things completely right, I have brought a check to pay for your loss. I promise that I have learned to never steal again.”

4. Use Sentencing Witnesses Who Say You Suck

This is a next level Jedi mind trick technique. The standard sentencing witness says something like: “He’s a good boy. He’s misunderstood. I’m shocked that he would do this.” It’s not necessarily terrible, but it's the same rote BS that judges hear everyday. A witness who only says good things about you tends to come across as well-meaning but clueless at best, and an enabler at worst. It’s ironically more effective to present witnesses willing to say you gargle scrote. This witness is disturbed and upset by your criminal behavior. The witness is pissed off at you. The witness will say your behavior is unacceptable and not compatible with your family’s values. Then after trashing you, the witness segues into the plan that has been put into place to change your awful behavior. Presenting a witness like this is a legal jiu-jitsu move that accomplishes two things: (1) It takes all the wind out of the prosecutor’s sails because she/he was just about to stand up to say how much you suck and now you've owned it and put your own spin on it, and (2) it shows the judge that you have tough love people in your life who will hold you accountable.

5. Wait Until The Courtroom Empties Out

The high school class trip to the courthouse is a common rite of passage. If you see a courtroom full of high school kids on your sentencing day, you best catch a case of the run and hides and disappear into the bathroom for a few hours. Why don’t you want a bunch of people in the courtroom? Part of human behavior is that we change our behavior when we’re being watched. Lawyers and judges are no exception. Take a look at your local newspaper, find an article on a criminal case, and read the comments section. I bet it's a mob of ill-informed people baying for blood. No punishment can be too severe for Joe Internet Dumbass. Judges know better, but they’re only human. If you’re being sentenced in a packed courtroom especially a courtroom full of kids to whom a judge wants to send a message, say sayonara to your freedom.

6. Be Sentenced After Lunch

A well publicized study found that judges were more lenient after lunch. The researchers speculated that empty-bellied judges were crankier and thus tougher. I don’t know whether that’s true, but I can say that my experience has been that I generally get better results in the afternoon. The combination of a mostly empty courtroom and it being almost time to go home contributes to a more relaxed atmosphere. And more relaxed judges usually means better things for criminal defendants.

7. Schedule Sentencing for Christmas Time

Shhhhhh, don't tell anyone this was a ploy to keep you out of jail. This one sounds silly, but I’ve gotten some of my best results right before Christmas. What kind of an Ebenezer Scrooge judge doesn't want a defendant to be opening presents with his family on Christmas morning? It feels good to release a man for Christmas. Even if it makes no logical sense, there is a big psychological difference between a sentence handed down on December 21 versus January 21. Similarly, a French study showed that criminal defendants received more lenient sentences on their birthdays.

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