A sentencing hearing may be a crossroads for a first-time offender.

The language that is used by all parties may weigh heavily on an offender’s mind after the hearing is complete. Counsel must be cautious to avoid ‘off the cuff’ labels and to stay away from stigmatizing language. 

By way of example, the description of a young person as “not an academic” may confirm the offender’s insecurities regarding his intellectual capacity. However, a poor academic performance may be due to a lack of support and opportunities rather than a reflection of his abilities.

All parties play an important role in communicating to first-time offenders that they have the potential to do better. While the specific misconduct must be denounced, hope should spring eternal in the language that is used to characterize the accused.

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