Journal Entry: Sunday, April 28, 2024

Journal Entry

Federal Judges

Getting Judges to Know You

In working to advocate for changes to the criminal justice system, I’ve had the privilege of conversing with more than 20 federal judges. Two of those federal judges allowed me to video record our interview. I asked them what, if anything, a person could do to move the needle during a sentencing hearing.

  • Video interview with US District Court Judge Bennett
  • Video Interview with US District Court Judge Bough

Without exception, judges tell us that they want to know more about the people they’re sentencing. They want to know whether the person identifies with the victim of the crime, understands the harm caused, and the influences that led the person into this problem with the law. Further, they want to know more about what steps the person is taking to make amends. 

Learn how to develop a mitigation strategy, and a person will go a long way toward influencing a better sentencing experience.

The Importance of Humanizing Your Story

In a federal sentencing hearing, the judge wants to know about the person facing the sanction. The judge knows that the prosecutor is going to ask for a severe sanction, and the judge knows that the defense attorney will ask for leniency. What the judge rarely knows is about the defendant’s state of mind. We encourage people to invest time and energy to develop a story. Build a relatable message. 

Strategies to Help the Judge Understand You

Personal Statement: Prepare a thoughtful, first-person, sincere statement for the sentencing hearing. This statement should begin with identifying empathy for the victim of the crime. It should express remorse, acknowledge the impact the crime had on the broader society, and convey commitment to making amends.

Character Reference Letters: Gather letters from friends, family, and colleagues that paint a picture of your character, contributions to the community, and efforts toward rehabilitation. These letters should provide diverse perspectives on your life and character.

Documenting Mitigation Strategy: Develop a body of work that shows the various ways that you have worked to reconcile. Show all proactive steps taken towards personal improvement and restitution.

Build a Comprehensive Release Plan: Outline a clear plan for your future, demonstrating your intentions to lead a responsible, constructive life post-sentencing. This could include career goals, educational aspirations, or community involvement plans.

Your Background and Challenges: Share your personal background and any challenges you’ve faced that may have contributed to your situation. This context can offer the judge a deeper understanding of your actions and potential for rehabilitation.

Legal Counsel’s Role: Work closely with your attorney to weave these elements into a cohesive narrative. Your lawyer can help present your story in a way that is compelling and relevant to the sentencing guidelines.

Engaging the Judge during Sentencing

Direct Communication: When speaking to the judge, be respectful, clear, and sincere. Your demeanor and tone can leave a lasting impression.

Emotional Authenticity: While maintaining composure, don’t shy away from showing genuine emotion. Judges appreciate authenticity.

Answering Questions: If the judge asks you questions, answer them directly and honestly. This is your opportunity to have a dialogue with the judge and further clarify your story.


Helping the judge understand you as an individual is a critical aspect of your sentencing. It requires careful preparation and a strategic presentation of your narrative. My experience has taught me that judges value sincerity and a demonstrated commitment to change. As you prepare for your sentencing, remember that how you present your story can significantly influence your future. Approach this opportunity with the seriousness and preparation it deserves, as it is a crucial step in your journey through the federal court system.