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The Champion

March 2011 , Page 26 

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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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