Judges Taking Prior Military Service into Account at Sentencing

The New York Times this week reported on a growing trend of federal judges to be slightly more lenient to recently deployed soldiers at sentencing time. While special treatment might be constitutionally questionable, taking a defendant’s state of mind at the time of the crime is a common practice.

With the current war going on and sending young men and women on repeat tours of duty, many people are coming home changed—suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a generally isolationist state of mind. These issues are certainly no excuse for criminal behavior, but they are being seen as a reason to be lenient.

As the New York Times points out, the federal sentencing guidelines are meant to be “advisory” and not mandatory. So, when they say that “prior good works like  military service are not ordinarily relevant”, this doesn’t necessarily mean that judges cannot consider those acts, just that they can take those words into consideration.

It’s commonly known that war can affect someone for the rest of their life. Even if they don’t suffer a physical injury, their mind may be forever changed.

So, what does this mean for you, the average person facing criminal charges, likely in a state court? Well, it goes to show that while your state of mind is not always an excuse for criminal actions, it may be taken into consideration by the judge at the time of sentencing.

For instance: You are unemployed with a family to feed. At your wits end you commit your first theft in an effort to make some quick cash. You are arrested, charged, and convicted. You are guilty of theft but the judge may be more lenient on your sentence than she would be on someone who has a history of criminal theft with no real reason.

Whether you are charged with theft, assault, or even drug charges, and you believe yourself to be guilty—don’t lose hope. It is the responsibility of a criminal defense attorney to defend you, not just to prove your innocent, but to make sure you get fair treatment in court. An experienced defense lawyer is always ready to make sentencing arguments, and make sure the court understands your character, your motivation, and your remorse. Everyone deserves a second chance if they make a mistake they sincerely regret.

About David Matson