Sentencing can be the most critical part of your case. While the conviction itself may be a black mark on your record and may carry collateral consequences, the sentence is what concerns most people. Sentencing is usually a time when you can significantly help or seriously hurt yourself. Some offenses have minimum sentences set by law, in which case you can only try to get the minimum, otherwise you are trying to get the court to be as easy on you as possible. I always recommend an attorney for criminal cases, but if you don't have an attorney or your attorney is not especially helpful in preparing you for sentencing, here are some tips:
You have the right to speak or not speak on your own behalf at your sentencing whether you are represented by counsel or not. If you cannot follow the tips below, you are probably better off not speaking. As a law student and young attorney I spent quite a lot of time sitting in court watching cases, and sentencing hearings were the most common hearing. I still pay attention to sentencing hearings the court holds before my client's case is called. I have seen many people really mess things up at sentencing by saying the wrong things, and I have achieved many excellent sentences for my clients by focusing on the right things.
First, if you have been found guilty after a trial you may have the right to appeal. Before speaking at sentencing you should decide whether you are going to appeal or not. If you appeal your conviction and win, your statements at sentencing could be used against you in a retrial. In those cases it is best to remain silent, or not to say anything about the case.
Don't speak out of turn. The judge will give you the opportunity to speak, wait for it. Interrupting the judge, the prosecutor, your attorney, and especially the victim or another prosecution witness shows disrespect and a lack of impulse control. These are traits a judge will see as evidence of someone who is likely to commit further crimes, not to mention just pissing the judge off.
See more tips in Part 2.