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An allocution, or allocutus, is a formal statement made to the court by the defendant who has been found guilty prior to being sentenced. It is part of the criminal procedure in some jurisdictions using common law.
It allows the defendant to explain why the sentence should be lenient. In plea bargains, an allocution may be required of the defendant. The defendant explicitly admits specifically and in detail the actions and their reasons in exchange for a reduced sentence.
In principle, that removes any doubt as to the exact nature of the defendant's guilt in the matter.
The term "allocution" is used generally only in jurisdictions in the United States, but there are vaguely similar processes in other common law countries. In many other jurisdictions, it is for the defense lawyer to mitigate on his client's behalf, and the defendant rarely has the opportunity to speak.
The right of victims to speak at sentencing is also sometimes referred to as allocution.
In Australia the term allocutus is used by the Clerk of Arraigns or another formal associate of the Court. It is generally phrased as, "Prisoner at the Bar, you have been found Guilty by a jury of your peers of the offense of XYZ. Do you have anything to say as to why the sentence of this Court should not now be passed upon you?" The defense counsel will then make a plea in mitigation (also called submissions on penalty) in an attempt to mitigate the relative seriousness of the offense and heavily refer to and rely upon the defendant's previous good character and good works (if any).
In Australia, the right to make a plea in mitigation is absolute. If a judge or magistrate were to refuse to hear such a plea, or obviously fail to properly consider it, then the sentence would, without doubt, be overturned on appeal.
In most United States jurisdictions, defendants are allowed the opportunity to allocute—that is, to explain themselves—before a sentence is passed. Some jurisdictions hold this as an absolute right, and, in its absence, a sentence (but not the conviction) may potentially be overturned, with the result that a new sentencing hearing must be held. In the federal system, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(i)(4) provides that the court must "address the defendant personally in order to permit the defendant to speak or present any information to mitigate the sentence." The Federal Public Defender recommends that defendants speak in terms of how a lenient sentence will be sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with the statutory directives set forth in .
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- Nicholson, Keith D. (1994–1995), Would You Like More Salt with That Wound - Post-Sentence Victim Allocution in Texas, 26, St. Mary's L.J., p. 1103