Attendees at the Massachusetts Bar Association's Criminal
Justice Conference on June 15 learned about effective sentencing
advocacy and details of the parole process from panelists
representing the municipal court, the corrections system, the
parole board and private practice.
Members of the first panel encouraged defense attorneys to help
their clients achieve the best possible sentence by reaching out to
probation officers and prosecutors in advance. Giving them
important contextual details about the client and the case can make
a big difference in the client's sentence.
"Even with a mandatory minimum in place, the prosecuting
attorney will often consider something else knowing the context,"
said Second Assistant District Attorney Gerald Stewart. "Don't be
afraid to share something with the prosecutor."
Stewart and Community Corrections Manager John Quinn explained
that properly evaluating a client and understanding available
programs would help attorneys argue effectively for alternative
sentences before a judge.
"Not everyone can be put on probation; some have to go to jail.
Think about whether the client would succeed in probation before
getting them there," agreed Deputy Probation Commissioner Paul
Lucci. "If they fail [in probation], they're facing even more
Lucci gave a detailed explanation of possible resources and
accommodations that make probation an effective option in more
cases. Associate Justice Robert Tochka recommended encouraging the
client's family to attend the trial or send support letters. He
explained that proactive steps such as rehabilitation programs and
support networks help the client's cause.
"No matter how serious the crime is, if you can find a way to
guarantee they won't come back to this, they might take your side,"
said veteran defense attorney Randy Chapman.
Members of the second panel, who explained the parole process,
spoke to the same theme. Parole Board member Roger L. Michel Jr.
stressed the importance of having prepared a parole plan composed
of an expected job, support network and place to live.
"The argument needs to convince the Parole Board to feel
comfortable with releasing someone who has already committed a
crime back into the community, said Michel. "Understand what the
board needs to hear from the inmate. Tell the client they need to
make clear things that won't be listed in jail records, such as
their temperament and personality."
Because inmates seeking parole rarely have the permission or
resources to bring counsel to hearings, attorneys should provide
them and parole officers with the resources to prepare for parole
hearings at sentencing. Attorneys can also help a client down the
road by giving them a brief explanation of the parole process or by
sending important notes to the Parole Board regarding important
circumstances at sentencing.
While the Parole Board will ask the inmate about all past
offenses, the success of the hearing will depend on how well the
inmate convinces the officers of a firm parole plan, said Michel.
"There's only one thing I'm really going to be concerned about, and
that's what's going to happen in the future."