Friday, June 14, 2013

Courtroom Decorum or Avoiding Mistakes at Sentencing in New York Criminal Cases

I love the TV show TMV. From the music to the fast and funny graphics, to Harvey (I'm a lawyer), it is a hit in my book. They love to capture legal events involving celebrities, btw who doesn't?

Just last week they showed the sentencing of Chad Johnson aka Ochocinco for some domestic violence charge in Florida. His lawyer did a great job of negotiating a plea bargain for his probation violation to just some community service hours and counseling. In other words NO JAIL TIME!

The General Rule

Plea offers between the District Attorney and the defense attorney are generally accepted by Judges but the Judge is always the ultimate decider. In this case all was well, and proceeding quite smoothly until the million dollar question that many judges ask at sentencing to avoid appeals was posed:

"Were you satisfied with the representation of your attorney?"

The basis of most appeals is inadequate representation (AKA Ineffective Assistance of Counsel) so if you say, "I was satisfied by my lawyer's representation at final sentencing" this issue is off the table so to speak. Judges want to avoid repeats, and appeals, they only add to an overworked and underfunded calendar.

In this case Ochocinco said, "yes" and added a slap to his lawyer's behind. Probably OK on the field of play or in a locker room but the Courtroom is another matter. Most people in Court laughed in amusement at the gesture but the most important person there found no humor in the situation.

She remarked it was not a time for jokes or joking (she believed that he was not taking this serious) AND she set aside his plea offer, and then proceeded to sentence him to 30 DAYS in Jail.

These are my FOUR hard and fast sentencing rules for clients, break them at your peril.


Know the Judge's demeanor. If this is not a Judge that enjoys jokes, don't make any. If this is Judge that is conservative don't wear a liberal tie with pot leaves. Know who you are standing in front of.


Don't speak unless spoken to, and don't add anything beyond the questions that are asked. Think more and speak less. Sentencing is the final stretch so don't blow it. Until everything is signed and sealed this is a solemn moment. Uncomfortable silence is OK, don't feel the need to speak.


Sentencing is POST Plea, It comes after you have plead to something, so now is not the time to deny and lie. You have admitted to some criminal behavior, so OWN it. Take responsibility, and be accountable if asked.


Judges love sincere apologies. Don't offer it if IT is NOT sincere, things will only be worse. That said if you can offer up a coherent and heartfelt apology do it.

Lawrence (Larry) Newman, D.C., Esq.
Doctor of Chiropractic
Attorney and Counselor at Law