Last Words: A Survey and Analysis of Federal Judges' Views on Allocution in Sentencing

80 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2014

See all articles by Mark W. Bennett

Mark W. Bennett

U.S. District Court (Northern District of Iowa); Independent; Drake University - Law School

Ira P. Robbins

American University - Washington College of Law

Date Written: March 10, 2014


Allocution — the penultimate stage of a criminal proceeding at which the judge affords defendants an opportunity to speak their last words before sentencing — is a centuries-old right in criminal cases, and academics have theorized about the various purposes it serves. But what do sitting federal judges think about allocution? Do they actually use it to raise or lower sentences? Do they think it serves purposes above and beyond sentencing? Are there certain factors that judges like or dislike in allocutions? These questions — and many others — are answered directly in this first-ever study of judges’ views and practices regarding allocution.

The authors surveyed all federal district judges in the United States. This Article provides a summary and analysis of the participants’ responses. Patterns both expected and unexpected emerged, including, perhaps most surprisingly, that allocution does not typically have a large influence on defendants’ final sentences. Most of the judges agreed, however, that retaining this often-overlooked procedural right remains an important feature of the criminal-justice process.

This Article also synthesizes judges’ recommendations for both defendants and defense attorneys aiming to craft the most effective allocution possible. Critical factors include preparing beforehand, displaying genuine remorse, and tailoring the allocution to the predilections of the sentencing judge.

Keywords: allocution, sentencing, federal courts, criminal procedure, crime, remorse, litigation, empirical study, defendants, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, attorney preparation, sentencing guidelines, white collar crime, child pornography, drug trafficking, immigration

JEL Classification: K00, K1, K3, K4, K10, K14, K19, K30, K40, K41, K42

Suggested Citation

Bennett, Mark W. and Robbins, Ira P., Last Words: A Survey and Analysis of Federal Judges' Views on Allocution in Sentencing (March 10, 2014). Alabama Law Review, Vol. 65, No. 3, 2014, American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2014-9, Available at SSRN:

Mark W. Bennett

U.S. District Court (Northern District of Iowa) ( email )

320 6th St.
Sioux City, IA 51101
United States
712-233-3909 (Phone)

Independent ( email )

Drake University - Law School ( email )

27th & Carpenter Sts.
Des Moines, IA 50311
United States

Ira P. Robbins (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States
202-274-4235 (Phone)
202-274-4130 (Fax)

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