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Don't overlook the value of character letters to federal judges

You've been charged with a federal crime (or, more likely, several -- since the prosecutor will probably tack on as many as possible in hopes of gaining an easier conviction). Despite your best efforts and the efforts of your attorneys, you've been convicted and are now facing sentencing.

Is all hope of any leniency lost?

Not at all. Consider this: In the recent and well-publicized case against Paul Manafort for tax and bank fraud, prosecutors were pushing for a sentence that met the guidelines for his crimes. That would have put the 69-year-old in prison for the next 20 years.

Instead, the judge sentenced him to a relatively lenient 47-month term, citing the fact that Manafort had led an "otherwise blameless life."

What convinced the judge to go easy on this particular defendant? It's hard to say with certainty, but one thing that was cited by the judge was the fact that numerous people wrote character reference letters on the defendant's behalf. Those letters, coming from the defendant's friends and family members, did seem to sway the judge's opinion.

Instances such as these are a good reminder that judges are human beings. They will often take into account factors that don't necessarily appear to be important when you're reading the cold, hard laws on the books.

If you're approaching sentencing for a federal crime, it's a smart idea to get as many of your friends and relatives to write character letters on your behalf as possible. Naturally, you want to approach people who have a high opinion of you -- but they don't have to be people who are in any position of influence. Your neighbors that you help out and the parents on the soccer team you coach are fine -- simply because they can give the judge an idea of who you are on a personal level.

Ideally, the judge will come to see you as someone that is family-oriented, community-minded -- if somewhat flawed. That could make a big difference when it comes time to pass down your sentence and give you a better outcome.

For more information about federal defense issues, please explore our site further or contact our office directly.

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