In part 3 of this 4-part article, we focused in on the PSI (pre-sentence investigation) phase of a Michigan OWI case and the legally required alcohol assessment test that’s a part of that. The whole reason for the PSI is for the probation department to generate a written report and sentencing recommendation that is sent to the Judge to be used in deciding what to do to you. Here, in part 4 we’ll see how this all comes together at the last stage of the court process – the sentencing. This is when you finally stand in front of the Judge to find out what’s going to happen to you. As I noted before, most of what will be handed down by the Judge comes directly from the probation department’s recommendation. By law, when you show up for sentencing, you and your lawyer are required to read the probation department’s report and recommendation. Later, when the Judge calls your case, he or she will ask if you and your lawyer have read it over, if you have any corrections to make to it (this applies only to the facts stated in the report, like your name, date of birth, prior record and such, and NOT to the recommendation itself) and then, what your lawyer and you have to say regarding the recommendation part of it.
Judges are all people, and just like everyone else, every Judge in every court is different. No matter how well-spoken a lawyer may be, knowing the idiosyncrasies and inclinations of your particular Judge is a starting point to knowing what to say, and, equally important, what not to say, at sentencing. Every professional athlete, for example, studies his or her opposition. In football, each team watches film of the other team; same with any fighting sport, like boxing or MMA. If I’m representing a 2nd time DUI offender in a jurisdiction without a sobriety court and who I’d like to transfer into a different jurisdiction’s sobriety court program, I had better know if his or her Judge will allow that. There are some Judges who will not transfer a case, no matter what, so not only is asking for that a total waste of time as a sentencing strategy, but then you have to ask, what has a lawyer done to help the client in a case that’s not going anywhere? That’s like bringing chopsticks to a soup dinner.
This may sound harsh, but it’s true: sentencing is where your lawyer either shines, or not. When you’re standing in front of the Judge who is going to decide what punishment and consequences you receive, you had better have spent your money on a lawyer who is exceptionally persuasive. The very LAST thing you need is some attorney who is indistinguishable from the larger herd of lawyers that just drones on about the same old stuff, like your age, job, and other generic blabber about how you regret this incident, want to move past it, and get on with your life. Instead, you need a lawyer who engages the Judge, captures his or her attention, and who can explain, in short order, things like who you are as a person and how that figures into something like this never happening again. In short, you need a lawyer with charisma to spare.