My Law Life

by Scott Ealy (Effingham, Illinois, USA)

A Lesson On Sentencing Hearings . . . Via Monty Python



Please Ignore The Subtitles




During my high school years, I would wait up religiously for the late Sunday evening appearances of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” on our local PBS-affiliated television station.

Although I had no interest in law, I was more than amused by “the courteous murderer,” a sentencing skit.


Warning To Defendants:  “The courteous murderer” is a satirical comedy sketch.  It is NOT real. 


If it’s real mitigation that you earnestly seek to prove for yourself or a client, however, here are Illinois’ official “factors in mitigation,” as found at 730 ILCS 5/5-5-3.1(a):


The following grounds shall be accorded weight in favor of withholding or minimizing a sentence of imprisonment:


  1. The defendant’s criminal conduct neither caused nor threatened serious physical harm to another.
  2. The defendant did not contemplate that his criminal conduct would cause or threaten serious physical harm to another.
  3. The defendant acted under a strong provocation.
  4. There were substantial grounds tending to excuse or justify the defendant’s criminal conduct, though failing to establish a defense.
  5. The defendant’s criminal conduct was induced or facilitated by someone other than the defendant.
  6. The defendant has compensated or will compensate the victim of his criminal conduct for the damage or injury that he sustained.
  7. The defendant has no history of prior delinquency or criminal activity or has led a law-abiding life for a substantial period of time.
  8. The defendant’s criminal conduct was the result of circumstances unlikely to recur.
  9. The character and attitudes of the defendant indicate that he is unlikely to commit another crime.
  10. The defendant is particularly likely to comply with the terms of a period of probation.
  11. The imprisonment of the defendant would entail excessive hardship to his dependents.
  12. The imprisonment of the defendant would endanger his or her medical condition.
  13. The defendant was mentally retarded as defined elsewhere in this Code. 



One accurate aspect of the above-displayed Monty Python video clip is its portrayal of the defendant’s right of allocution.  The defendant has a right to personally address the court to make his own final remarks –  following the presentation of all sentencing evidence, yet before the court’s final decision.

This is the defendant’s opportunity to have “the last word,” to tell the court anything relevant about himself including his capsulized life story, future plans, and perspective on particular events before the court.



Question:  Do tears and apologies “work” at sentencing hearings to elicit a lighter sentence?


Answer:  Rarely, if ever.  The better practice is an ability to point to specific post-crime conduct that demonstrates a firm and consistent resolve to make matters right . . . prior to “hammer time.”




Scott Ealy



Written by scottealy

April 26, 2010 at 4:06 pm

%d bloggers like this: