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How Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Prepare Mitigation Packages

How Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Prepare Mitigation Packages

When a defendant is facing federal criminal charges, one of the most important things their defense attorney can do is prepare a thorough and compelling mitigation package. This package of information is vital for securing the most lenient sentence possible if the defendant is convicted.

What is a Mitigation Package?

A mitigation package is a collection of information about a defendant that is presented to the court to show why they deserve leniency or a reduced sentence. It provides context about a defendant’s background, mental health issues, trauma, family circumstances, redeeming qualities, and more to try to humanize them in the eyes of the judge.

The goal is to show that while the defendant made a mistake or committed a crime, there were factors in their life that influenced their behavior or reduced their culpability. This can include things like:

  • Childhood abuse or trauma
  • Mental illness or cognitive impairments
  • Drug, alcohol, or gambling addictions
  • Extreme financial pressures
  • Minimal role in the offense
  • Exceptional good deeds and character
  • Potential for rehabilitation

By compiling this information into a package with supporting documentation like medical records, letters of support, and evidence of rehabilitation efforts, defense attorneys try to paint a fuller picture of who the defendant is. This can influence the judge’s perception of the appropriate sentence.

When Do Attorneys Start Preparing the Package?

Smart federal criminal defense attorneys start working on mitigation evidence from the very beginning of a case. The best mitigation packages take significant time and effort to put together.

They begin by thoroughly investigating the defendant’s background. This includes interviewing the defendant, family members, friends, employers, teachers and anyone else close to them to learn about their life story.

The attorney then researches and gathers documentary evidence to support and supplement the information learned. This can include things like:

  • Medical records
  • Mental health records
  • School records
  • Military records
  • Employment records
  • Family court and CPS records
  • Certificates for treatment programs or education
  • Letters of support

It’s critical that attorneys take the time early on to gather all potentially relevant mitigating evidence. If they wait until late in the case, they may miss opportunities to secure useful records or statements.

What is Included in Mitigation Packages?

While the specific contents of mitigation packages vary case-by-case, most include a mix of the following elements:

Summary Memorandum

A well-written memorandum that summarizes the key mitigating factors and explains why they merit a lenient sentence. This ties all the supporting evidence together into a persuasive narrative arguing for leniency.

Personal Background Report

An in-depth discussion of the defendant’s personal history including details about their childhood, family life, relationships, education, employment, mental health issues, substance abuse problems and more.

Documentary Evidence

Copies of records and documents that provide objective support for the claims made in the personal background report, such as:

  • Medical records
  • Mental health assessments
  • School records
  • Military records
  • Letters of support

Multimedia Evidence

Photos, videos, artwork and other multimedia can help humanize a defendant and elicit empathy from a judge. These might include:

  • Family photos
  • Artwork or writings
  • Certificates of achievement
  • News articles mentioning good works
  • Volunteer photos
  • Video interviews with supporters

Reference Letters

Letters of support from family, friends, employers, teachers and community members vouching for a defendant’s good character can demonstrate their potential for rehabilitation.

How Attorneys Present Mitigation Packages

There are a few ways attorneys typically submit mitigation evidence to the court:

  • As exhibits attached to sentencing memorandums
  • As standalone sentencing reports provided to the probation office
  • Through live testimony at the sentencing hearing

Usually, attorneys employ a combination of all three methods for maximum impact. They also work closely with mitigation specialists who help prepare the evidence and can provide expert testimony on how mitigating factors influenced a defendant’s behavior.

No matter how they submit it, the ultimate goal is to present a compelling case for why a defendant deserves the most lenient sentence possible under the circumstances. A well-prepared mitigation package can make all the difference at sentencing.

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