Time of Desperation: An Examination of Criminal Defendants’ Experiences of Allocuting at Sentencing

By Joshua Burger-Caplan

For criminal defendants, allocution is the last time they may address the court before sentencing is pronounced. For many defendants, whether because they pled guilty or did not testify at trial, it is their only such opportunity. According to a recent survey of federal judges, allocution at sentencing can, for better or worse, significantly affect sentencing decisions. Other researchers have suggested that, beyond such effects, allocution is also important in creating opportunities for defendant expression that go beyond the presentation of mitigating information.

Despite the impact of sentencing, little research has been done into defendants’ perspectives on their own allocutions. This Note draws on interviews to explore the ways in which defendants prepare for and experience their allocutions, and situates their rationales for allocution within the existing literature. Part II provides background information on how allocution has been treated in the courts. Part III discusses the Note’s interview methodology. Parts IV and V respectively examine the humanization and mitigation rationales for allocution from the perspective of defendants, and conclude that it is the mitigation rationale that more accurately reflects the accounts given by defendants.

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