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What To Know About Sentencing Memorandums

Part of the reason we established TopWCA is to assist defendants in making informed choices when hiring attorneys and to acknowledge attorneys who dedicate significant effort to their clients. This is particularly important when discussing the sentencing memorandum.

The Importance of the Sentencing Memorandum

As I express in this podcast and blog, the sentencing memorandum is a vital document crafted by the defense attorney for a defendant facing a sentencing hearing. Its purpose is to influence the sentencing decision by providing the judge with a well-rounded, detailed presentation of the case from the defense’s perspective. It’s troubling how many defendants reach out to us unaware of its importance—some only a day before sentencing, unaware of its contents or significance.

Structuring the Sentencing Memorandum

Typically, a sentencing memorandum starts with background information, where the attorney details the defendant’s history and character. It may dive into mitigating circumstances surrounding the crime. Discussing these circumstances early and persuasively influences the judge’s perspective. Sometimes, the memorandum will include the defendant’s personal narrative, which differs from the memorandum itself as it is written in the defendant’s own words, enhancing the document’s personal touch.

Leveraging Personal Narratives

For instance, in my own sentencing memorandum, my attorneys, Joel Athey and Bob Corbin incorporated insights from my upbringing in Encino. They openly acknowledged the privileges I had, which we never shied away from. This honesty added a layer of persuasion to my memorandum.

Beyond Boilerplate: The Need for Unique Content

The memorandum should not merely reiterate common facts but should highlight unique mitigating factors specific to the defendant. This could include efforts made towards restitution, cooperation with authorities, or significant, documented changes made by the defendant. Each point should be clearly articulated to stand out—like the Purple Cow concept by Seth Godin. It’s about making your memorandum as unique and noticeable as possible.

The Defendant’s Role in the Memorandum

As a defendant, it’s crucial to be proactive about your sentencing memorandum. Ensure you understand and review every part of it before the sentencing. You should feel empowered to provide input and insist on incorporating your personal narrative and any other relevant documents or addendums, like character references or letters from psychologists.

Conclusion and Recommendations for Sentencing

Towards the end of the memorandum, your lawyer will likely make a specific recommendation for sentencing. This could range from advocating for probation to suggesting alternative forms of confinement. In my opinion, it’s important that these recommendations are realistic. In other words, if the government is asking for seven years, it probably does not make sense to ask for federal probation.

Closing Thoughts

To all defendants approaching sentencing, remember the importance of your sentencing memorandum. It’s more than just a document; it’s your story, your argument for leniency, and one of your final chances to influence your sentence. Engage with it actively, understand its contents, and work closely with your attorney to ensure it represents your best interests.

This overview is just the beginning. In future posts, we’ll explore aspects such as personal narratives and character references.

Please schedule a call if you have questions.


Justin Paperny

Founder, Topwca

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Justin Paperny Founder
Co-Founder of White Collar Advice and TopWCA. Author of Lessons From Prison and Ethics in Motion.

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