Lawyers Journal

Criminal justice panelists urge reaching out to prosecutors

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 time."

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."

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