Worth the read

Last Words: A Survey and Analysis of Federal Judges’ Views on Allocution in Sentencing

Mark W. Bennett

U.S. District Court (Northern District of Iowa)

Ira P. Robbins

American University – Washington College of Law

March 10, 2014

Alabama Law Review, Vol. 65, No. 3, 2014
American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2014-9 

Allocution — the penultimate stage of a criminal proceeding at which the judge affords defendants an opportunity to speak their last words before sentencing — is a centuries-old right in criminal cases, and academics have theorized about the various purposes it serves. But what do sitting federal judges think about allocution? Do they actually use it to raise or lower sentences? Do they think it serves purposes above and beyond sentencing? Are there certain factors that judges like or dislike in allocutions? These questions — and many others — are answered directly in this first-ever study of judges’ views and practices regarding allocution.

The authors surveyed all federal district judges in the United States. This Article provides a summary and analysis of the participants’ responses. Patterns both expected and unexpected emerged, including, perhaps most surprisingly, that allocution does not typically have a large influence on defendants’ final sentences. Most of the judges agreed, however, that retaining this often-overlooked procedural right remains an important feature of the criminal-justice process.

This Article also synthesizes judges’ recommendations for both defendants and defense attorneys aiming to craft the most effective allocution possible. Critical factors include preparing beforehand, displaying genuine remorse, and tailoring the allocution to the predilections of the sentencing judge.


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