Case 4: Sample Defendant

Client Name


Insert city, state, zip

October 16, 20xx

The Honorable (insert name)

Chief Judge for the Federal District Court

District of North Dakota

655 1st Avenue, North

Fargo, ND 58102


United States of America—v—Client Name

Case Number: (insert)

Dear Judge Pratt:

I’m sick with sorrow and regret for the crimes that I committed. Knowing that I played a role in Bailey’s death torments me with grief. Besides Bailey’s dying from an overdose, I know that his family suffers. I wish that a possibility existed for me to undo the harm that my decisions have caused. But at this stage, all I know how to do is express sorrow. For what it’s worth, I want Bailey’s family to know that I wasn’t operating in a “right” frame of mind when I participated in this scheme to distribute drugs.  I certainly didn’t intend for anyone to suffer. I just wasn’t thinking right and I’m deeply remorseful for what I’ve done.

Since authorities arrested me last January, I’ve gone through a process of trying to cleanse my guilt. Ten months have passed since I’ve been in custody. Every night I suffocate as these concrete ceilings and floors close in on me. I keep thinking about the bad decisions I made that put me in this predicament. Writing this public letter of apology won’t reverse the damage. Bailey’s family wants justice for their son and I can accept that. Yet it’s important that everyone knows more about my background. Even though I cannot excuse my conduct, I’m hopeful that others will know I didn’t have any malice in my heart and I am sorry. 

I’ve spent my entire life in the Grand Forks area. My parents are good citizens. They’re hard-working Americans, good Catholics who’ve devoted their lives to public service. My father worked for the postal service as a letter carrier and now he supervises a maintenance crew for the post office. My mother works in administration at the University of North Dakota. Both parents wanted my siblings and me to grow into productive citizens. I failed them and I’m deeply ashamed. 

I have an older sister, Mary, who is now 23 and she studies accounting at the University of North Dakota. While growing up, Mary and I were best friends. When I started to go off the deep end in my life in the fall of 2013—which I’ll explain below—my relationship with Mary suffered. I embarrassed her as I began abusing drugs to cope with pain and anguish. 

I have a younger brother, Curt, who is a senior in high school. My drug use had a bad influence on him, too. I know that Curt looked up to me. As he saw me using drugs, he began experimenting with smoking weed. After this crime derailed my life, and authorities put me in prison, I’ve been able to detox. With clear thoughts, I could more easily connect the dots and see how easily smoking pot can lead to stupid decisions, crime, and in my case, even worse. Although I’m trying to dissuade Curt from ever using drugs again, I regret that I was such a poor role model for him. 

My younger sister, Lisa, was only 13 when I started going off the deep end, back in 2013. She wasn’t old enough to understand my depression. It spun out of control when our grandmother died suddenly while she was recuperating from surgery. One day we were planning on our grandmother’s returning home and the next day we learned that she was dying from a dreaded disease called sepsis. I took her death hard and that was when my drug use escalated from smoking marijuana to harder drugs. But my depression had roots that went much further back.

Our grandparents lived only ten houses away from our family’s house, so we were very close. When my parents were working, my grandmother would take care of us. More than grandparents, they were like second parents and I loved them very much. I was in the fifth grade when I nearly died. Sensing that something was wrong, my mother rushed me to the emergency room and doctors immediately diagnosed me as being diabetic. My blood-sugar levels were off the measuring charts. When the local hospital couldn’t treat me, an ambulance rushed me to the hospital in Fargo. My mother and grandparents were there to nurse me back to health during those five days that I was hospitalized. But it seemed my life was never the same. 

As a diabetic, I lost sense of my freedom and identity. The sickness influenced what I could eat and when I could eat. In school, I felt as if I was some kind of freak because I couldn’t do the things that my friends and I had been doing all of our lives. That was when I started to battle depression. My mom took me to see psychiatrists and they treated me with drugs. I had to take a drug called Lexapro. The drug was supposed to cure my depression but it didn’t work on me. Instead, the drug robbed me of my childhood. I would lie in my bed in a total daze all the time, comatose. I couldn’t muster the energy to get up. My grades dropped and I felt as if there wasn’t any reason to live. 

Eventually, another psychiatrist acknowledged that the medicine wasn’t working and he switched me to Buproprion. It was awful. I took it on and off, always feeling as if I was barely hanging on. It felt like I was on drugs my entire life, totally incapable of having any sense of normalcy that others took for granted. I’m not saying this as an excuse, Your Honor. I’m simply trying to write out my history so that you and Bailey’s family will know more about how I drifted into the types of reckless crimes I committed. 

During high school, I started smoking weed because I wanted to fit in. Considering my depression and history of taking meds, it wasn’t very smart for me to start experimenting with weed. I just felt so isolated and alone. I sat in a car with some other kids that I thought were pretty cool. Wanting to feel accepted, I took my first hit on a pipe. We laughed and I felt like I belonged. It’s embarrassing to write that I needed drugs to get through the day. Yet ever since my mom and grandmother rescued me from the diabetic seizure when I was in the fifth grade, I always felt as if I was some kind of outsider. Smoking pot with the other guys in school gave me something. I don’t know what it was, but it gave me something. 

Ever since I took that first hit of weed in high school, I had this sense that drugs could replace all that diabetes had taken away. Other kids would come by my house and we’d blank out playing video games and getting high. I graduated from high school with mediocre grades. Then, since my mom was on staff at UND I was able to get in. But I wasn’t in any condition for homework or the demands of a first-rate university. I was getting lousy grades. Then, in September of 2013, my life fell off a cliff when my grandmother died. She got diagnosed with cancer and the surgeon wanted to operate immediately. She seemed to be recuperating just fine in the hospital, but then sepsis took over and that was it.                                                 

Everyone else in my family handled the passing responsibly, but I just went off the deep end. I couldn’t stop thinking about how she’d been there for me when I was in the hospital and all the other times in my life. We’d garden together, spend time talking together. Both of my grandparents were school teachers and they taught me how to read. When I was depressed, I related to my grandmother more than anyone else. With her being gone, I felt more alone than ever. 

My mom could see that I was losing my mind and she kept taking me from one psychiatrist to another. They kept insisting that I take the Buproprion in various dosage amounts. Some had me taking the maximum dosage and other doctors told me to scale back. I’m probably to blame because I wasn’t only taking the medicine but I was also smoking weed. Besides that, I didn’t take the medication as regularly as I should have. In any event, the combination of the pharmaceuticals, the weed, the depression, and the generally unbalanced life I was living made me incapable of thinking straight when I was 18. I was a mess. 

I had a job delivering for Marco’s pizza. That was where I met Josh. He introduced me to his friends and we started to hang out together. They were a little younger than but we were all into the same type of party scene. By then it wasn’t only marijuana. I was taking everything that I could get my hands on, any type of chemical that would lift me from the miserable existence I felt was okay.

In May of 2014, after being up all day and night getting high, I drove home. Before crossing an intersection, I blacked out and collided with a van. The woman driving the van was hospitalized because of some blood pooling in her elbow. After the doctors checked me out, the sheriff put me in handcuffs and drove me to jail. I passed out and slept on the floor until a guard came to tell me that my parents had bailed me out. 

If I would’ve just stayed in that jail, Your Honor, none of this would’ve happened. I’d have had time to reflect like I’m doing right now. Those reflections would’ve helped to clear my head and stop me from spiraling down into deeper and deeper levels of toxic depression. I would’ve gotten a sense of the horrors of imprisonment and realized that this wasn’t a life for me. Without access to drugs, my mind would’ve cleared up and I would’ve been thinking straighter. I would’ve learned from the experience. 

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The blessing of having loving parents who wanted to save and help me backfired. They bailed me out because they were worried about me being in jail. If I was locked up, they thought I might not have access to the medicine I needed for diabetes. As a consequence of their love, I walked out of jail feeling like a victim. I wasn’t ready to accept responsibility. 

Over the next several months I went through the motions of judicial proceedings, always knowing that I was going to plead guilty. Instead of feeling remorseful for the pain that I had caused to the lady that I collided with, or the humiliation that I caused to my family, I felt sorry for myself—like this whole ordeal was blown out of proportion and nothing but a nuisance. The judge sentenced me to a year, but I was allowed to serve it on home confinement. 

The leniency my sentencing judge showed turned out to be a bad thing. I was afraid of being locked up. But as I wrote above, I never got a full taste of what I’ve been experiencing since my arrest last January. Besides being depressed, I’m embarrassed to write that I also felt entitled, as if my diabetes and sickness gave me some kind of pass—as if nothing worse could happen to me. When the judge sentenced me, and I learned that I could serve the time on home confinement, I went about my life as if I hadn’t learned a thing from the experience. Instead of turning my life around, I kept spiraling deeper into my substance abuse and all of the bad decisions that went along with it. 

My parents tried to look out for me. Any time friends would come over, both my dad and my mom would intervene. They’d sit down and let my visitors know that I was in serious trouble. “Tom can’t get involved in any more trouble,” they’d warn. “If you’re into anything illegal, please stay away from him. He’ll go to prison with a felony if he has any more problems.” Being the fool that I was, I’d tell my friends to blow off the warning. 

Your honor, I got into every type of drug I could get my hands on. And I’m guilty of all these charges. Thinking that this wasn’t anything more than an Internet game, I schemed with people online to purchase the drugs and I created schemes that would distribute the drugs to anyone who wanted them. (More details here would help.) 

Foolishly, I didn’t even think of myself as being a criminal. All I thought about was getting beyond the pain that I felt and fitting in with others. As a consequence, people have died. The people they loved and the people who loved them are suffering. My own parents are suffering. And now, I’m preparing for the likelihood that I’ll be going to prison for a long time. 

Your honor, as I wrote at the top, I know that words are not going to excuse my criminal acts or reverse the pain that I’ve caused. But it’s my hope that when you deliberate over the most appropriate sentence, I’m praying that you’ll consider my life in its entirety. It wasn’t until a few weeks after authorities busted into my parents’ house to arrest me that I started to look at my life in its entirety. I guess I needed the time in lockup to get away from the drugs. I’d been on drugs of one kind or another since I was in the fifth grade. It took this time in jail to clear out my system and start thinking straight. Unfortunately, the crimes that I committed resulted in enormous loss and suffering. 

I’ve spent my 19th and my 20th birthdays in prison, your honor. Ever since my thoughts cleared up, I’ve been cooperating with authorities to the best of my ability. I’m only able to write words on pages that I send home for my mom to type. I’m hoping you’ll read these pages so that you’ll know more about my life and remorse, I’ve also wanted to show with actions that I’m committed to living as a good person. I hate that I’m now a criminal, your honor. When I see the shame on my mother’s face or listen to the agony in my father’s voice, I know how much damage that I’ve caused. And know how much it has hurt my parents as I’ve written out this ugly history of my life. After leaving the visits where we press our palms against the glass separator to pretend that we’re touching, I realize how much trouble I’ve caused. Somehow, I want to make things right. I want to make things right for my family, for my community, and most importantly, for the victims of my crime. 

Please see that I’ve learned from my bad decisions, your honor. Although I know that severe punishment awaits me, it’s my hope that you’ll have mercy. Please extend an opportunity for me to work toward redemption and reconciliation. I may be only 20-years-old, but I’m no longer the same teenager who scoured the Internet looking for drugs. In a few more months I’ll be 21 and going to prison. While I’m inside, I intend to develop skills that will allow me to return as the good person that I’m capable of becoming. Please, your honor, send me to a prison that will allow me to work toward my education and not have to feel threatened by gangs. I want to be like my parents, your honor, good American citizens. 

Although I’ll never outlive the damage that I’ve created, I’ve certainly learned lessons. While I’m inside, I will find or create ways to reconcile with society—and hopefully with Bailey’s family for the role I played in the loss of their son.

Please, your honor, consider my remorse. Please show mercy by opening an opportunity for me to prove worthy of working toward redemption.


Client Name