Criminal Sentencing Advice in Michigan Courts – Speaking and Presenting Yourself in Court

How a Defendant presents himself or herself in Court at sentencing can influence the ultimate decision of the Court.  A Defendant has a right to speak at Court before sentencing occurs, which sometimes ends up being to the detriment of the Defendant.

This blog contains suggestions that may help a Defendant receive the best result at sentencing given the circumstances.  This advice is general in nature, and particular Judges may have their own policies and practices which you should be aware of prior to sentencing.  If you are before a Court for sentencing, defer to the advice of the attorney that has represented you throughout the case regarding sentencing.
For any criminal law case it is important to have strong, experienced representation.  For all criminal matters in Michigan I recommend attorney Daniel Hilf of the law firm Hilf & Hilf, PLC, which is located in the city of Troy.
DO:
1.  Appear on time;
2.  Accept responsibility and show remourse for your actions;
3.  Emphasize your positive qualities.  Give your attorney paperwork that shows the positive steps you have taken, such as AA attendance, pay stubs, letters of support, school attendance, letter from a counselor, etc. in advance of your court date.  Do not assume that the probation department or the Judge has any paperwork that you previously submitted;
4.  Have a plan for what you are going to do to better yourself and your situation;
5.  Have family members support you in Court though letters or attendance, unless the family members are young children;
6.  Dress appropriately;
7.  Be concise and prepared in terms of the information that you present to the Court.  If you have trouble speaking in public, you can send a letter to the Judge in advance to tell him or her anything that is important;
8.  Be attentive in Court;
9.  Bring money to apply towards restitution, court costs, and fees;
10.  Have a good attitude.  A good attitude goes a long way;
11.  Abstain from drugs and alcohol;
12.  Quit while you are ahead.  If the Judge indicates on the record that they are going to follow a favorable recommendation which you agree with, limit what you have to say.  Sometimes it is better to say nothing than to say something and talk the Judge into a worse sentence;
13.  Follow all terms of bond or bail.  If you can follow bail or bond, it is evidence that you can comply with probation;
14.  Be honest;
15.  Be represented by a lawyer that specializes in criminal defense.
DONT
1.  Be late;
2.  Make excuses or blame the victim or others.  If you are not guilty, you should not plead guilty or no contest just to resolve the case.  If you accepted a deal because you thought it was in your best interest, it is better to say nothing.  Some Judges even have pet peeves about a Defendant saying they “made a mistake”, because committing a crime is a much more severe lack of judgment than simply making a mistake.  Pay attention to your words;
3.  Dwell on the negative;
4.  Act or present yourself as being hopeless.  You might convince the Judge that you are not a suitable candidate for probation and should face incarceration, if the Judge does not believe you can follow the instructions of the Court and/or the probation department.  Don’t make the Judge believe that probation is a waste of time and resources;
5.  Make your children act as your shield.  Judges become angry when a Defendant brings a young child with them to Court alone with the hope that the child will protect them from going into custody.  Judges also do not like children having to witness a parent in handcuffs, or going into custody.  Children are often noisy and disruptive when bored by the Courtroom environment.  Nothing good occurs when young children are brought to Court.  Make plans for a child care provider to care for children during Court sessions;
6.  Dress like you just came in from the beach or you just woke up.  Many Judges see it as a lack of respect to come to Court in flip flops, cut off shorts, tank tops, dirty clothes, suggestive or inappropriate t-shirts, etc.  Also don’t chew gum in Court;
7.  Repeat the same information over and over.  Judges do not want to be bored, or danced around.  Repeating the same information may annoy your Judge;
8.  Disrespect the Court.  Talking loud, sleeping, reading newspapers, talking on your cellphone, all are likely to bother the Judge.  The Judge can see a lot from up on the bench;
9.  Come to Court empty handed.  If you have money to pay, it is a sign of good faith to bring money with you;
10.  Have a bad attitude.  Bad attitudes can be adjusted, and it is usually not a pleasant experience;
11.  Come to Court under the influence.  It happens more than you would think.  Persons who come to Court under the influence are perceived to be disrespectful to the Court, and a danger to the public;
12.  Talk yourself into a worse sentence.  Some person like to speak just to hear themselves speak, or because they are nervous.  A person who says the wrong things can end up in a worse situation.  Sometimes it is better to say nothing, rather than say something stupid;
13.  Violate the conditions of your bond or bail.  A Judge may believe that probation is not an answer if you cannot obey the bond conditions that are set.  A Judge may conclude you have a drug problem if you fail to appear for testing, and order more terms to your sentence to address your perceived issues;
14.  Lie.  Judges have experience from their job in detecting liars.  Lies only lead a Judge to not trust you and your ability to be rehabilitated;
15.  Be represented by someone who is not prepared.  Make sure that the lawyer who represents you is prepared, and is experienced in criminal defense.