How to Use Your Defendant Statement in Court

Law gavel depicting defendant statement in court

What is a defendant statement in court?

We have talked about a federal sentencing hearing and what to expect. We covered how, if you have accepted a plea deal, this is your first time before a judge where he or she will hear arguments about what is a fair punishment for the crime.

Most cases, state and federal, end in plea deals. Therefore, in many ways, the statement you get to make before the judge and those present at your hearing could be one of the most critical moments in your whole case.

How Important is a Defendant Statement?

Many people might not realize how vital their statement is to the sentence they are about to receive. It’s an essential right that even convicted criminals in our country have. It is an uninterrupted statement to the court and the judge – often in the hearing of victims or victim’s families.

Often, going through what you do when you are convicted of a crime is draining, frustrating, and humiliating. The state is in your life like never before.

Moreover, you have not had a chance to tell your side of the story. You may be harboring bad feelings about the victim, and sometimes it’s understandable. 

I’m here to tell you that what you say at this moment absolutely matters, and that you can add to your sentence if you are not careful. 

How To Craft A Defendant Statement

Write your statement down.

You might think that speaking from your heart is a good idea, especially if you intend to express your sorrow and sympathy.

However, if you don’t have experience with public speaking, now is not the time to make a statement “from the heart.” When you go to make your statement, it’s going to feel scary, and you are going to feel a lot of pressure. 

Review your statement with your lawyer.

This is the only time where what you say doesn’t follow the regulations laid forth for every other court proceeding.

What you say can be heartfelt without being a surprise to everyone but you. Having another set of eyes on what you plan to say can help you avoid some severe problems. It can also help you appear in the most sympathetic light possible even after being convicted of a serious crime. 

How To Make The Most Of Your Defendant Statement

  • Accept Responsibility. Yes, there are cases where this isn’t practical, and clients won’t do it. If you are not guilty of the crime, then you probably aren’t going to say you are. However, if you are guilty, being able to take some responsibility, express sympathy, and explain how you are going to take steps to change, will take you the absolute furthest you can go with the judge and those in the room. 
  • Be succinct. Like it or not, no one on the other side wants to hear you ramble on about your own issues when they see you as the perpetrator of a crime against someone they love. Judges, likewise, have listened to every sob story known to man. It’s best if you make a few impactful statements and then sit down. 
  • Be Authentic. In making a statement, you have to walk a line between knowing what you’re going to say and not sounding like a robot. What you want to convey to the judge is that you are a good person who did a bad thing, not a bad person. It helps when the statement is in your own words as you would express them. 

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Blaming victims. No matter what they did or how they contributed to what happened, blaming the victim or victims will never look good in court. The chances are good that these same people just gave emotional testimony about what your crime has done to them. If you can’t express sympathy and regret, it’s best not to say anything at all. 
  • Criticizing the judge. Judges hear a lot of criticism and anger. It’s in the nature of their job. However, at this moment, they hold the keys to your future. A judge might come in with a loose idea of your sentence in mind, but this statement gives them a clue into your psyche they are looking for. You might have problems with the system, but don’t bring it into the statement you make to the judge. Save it for your lawyer or the appeal process. This is not to say that a judge is going to give a longer sentence for insulting him, but you aren’t going to help your case by attacking him. 
  • Saying that you didn’t do it. It’s one thing when a jury has convicted you of a crime you did not commit. This has happened, sadly. Some have used this time to protest the injustice, and it didn’t work out well for them, but the impulse is understandable. If, however, you have made a plea deal with the federal government, a statement that you did not do the crime can void that deal. 

Be Prepared for Questions

It’s unusual for a judge to ask a defendant questions during the statement, but it can happen. It’s best to be prepared for that possibility, so you’re not caught off guard. If a judge asks you why you did what you did, you want to know how to answer in a way that preserves your advantage.


There are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to defendant statements at a federal sentencing hearing. This is why hiring a seasoned federal attorney can make or break your case at any stage of the game.

Call my office today for your free consultation if you need help navigating your case, whether during an investigation, trial, or post-conviction. 

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