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Heartstrings or Heartburn: A Federal Judge’s Musings On Defendants’ Right and Rite of Allocution
By Mark W. Bennett
Sentencing is, for me, and I believe most of my colleagues, the most
daunting task we perform as federal district court judges. Depriving
individuals of their liberty is never easy nor should it be.1
Thinking about the appropriate sentence often leads to sleepless nights
and stirring internal struggle and debate. I have sentenced two
defendants to death, many more than that to probation, dozens to life,
and have handed down every possible sentence in between.2 I
have heard more than 2500 sentencing allocutions. As a practicing lawyer
for 16 years before that, I was a proud member of the C.J.A. panel from
the week after passing the Iowa bar in 1975 until taking the oath of
office as a federal judge. During that time, I had the great privilege
of standing next to many defendants in federal court when they
allocuted. Sometimes I felt proud; sometimes I nearly fainted. Never in
my wildest imagination did I think allocutions were as important as I
have found th
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