How Lawyers Use Psychodrama to Prepare for Sentencing in a Criminal Case

Psychodrama has been utilized by creative lawyers to assist in case preparation and courtroom presentations for several decades. American trial lawyer Gerry Spence is widely attributed with being the first lawyer to conceptualize the interplay between psychodrama and law, and in 1994 he created the Trial Lawyer’s College where lawyers are taught how to utilize psychodrama in the 5 parts or phases of representation including jury selection, opening statement, direct examination, cross examination and closing arguments. Lawyers are also taught how to more fully and honestly evaluate their client’s cases in a process the TLC calls “discovering the story.” A critical phase in most criminal cases is not covered in the TLC curriculum and that phase is sentencing.

Sentencing is a critically important area where the power of psychodrama has historically been underutilized. Possibly this is because many lawyers prefer not to talk about sentencing. This reticence on the part of criminal defense lawyers may exist because a case can’t get to sentencing unless there has first been a conviction. Because of this, many lawyers think sentencing means that they have “lost” their client’s case. This is unfortunate because criminal defense lawyers can still “win” when they’ve obtained an excellent sentencing result for their clients. As with trial practice, the theories, tools and interventions of psychodrama can be utilized to help lawyers obtain extraordinary results.

While trial preparation is extraordinary important for any criminal defense attorney, statistically, most criminal cases are resolved through pleas of guilty. Thus, while harnessing every available tool for purposes of increasing a client’s changes for success at trial is an important and noble endeavor, it is a mistake from criminal defense attorneys to not make the same efforts toward personal and professional development with the aim toward excellence during the sentencing process.

Co-founder of the Michigan Psychodrama Center Patrick Barone was interviewed by Arizona Criminal Defense Trial Lawyer Doug Passon for his podcast entitled Set for Sentencing. The episode is called Sentencing Psychodrama! In this episode Patrick talks about his own professional and personal journey toward reaching psychodrama certification, and how he uses his psychodrama skills to benefit his clients at sentencing.

Doug Passon began his career as a public defender, but his career path took him to Hollywood where he pursed a long-time dream – to learn the art of storytelling on film. Soon Doug became an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and he has leveraged this skill into a singular talent, making sentence mitigation videos. Doug and Patrick met when he was brought in to assist in sentence mitigation for a case where one of Patrick’s clients was facing life in prison.

The two became fast friends, and they continue to work together in various capacities. This all lead to Doug asking Patrick to come onto his podcast to talk about how psychodrama can be utilized by criminal defense lawyers to prepare themselves and their clients for sentencing. Also, like the TLC’s “discovering the story” method to explore case facts and develop case themes, psychodrama can be used to discovery the client’s story.

This method and approach fits very nicely into Doug’s overall sentencing approach, which he discusses in his Champion Magazine article entitled The 3 “Rs” of Sentencing Storytelling. As Doug indicates on his website:

No matter what the case, there are only three types of sentencing stories defense lawyers ever tell.  I call them the 3 “Rs”, and they are: REVELATION, RELATIVITY and REDEMPTION.  Every case has at least one.  With a little bit of luck and whole lot of elbow grease, you may uncover all three.

Doug Passon – Champion Magazine

Psychodrama is a great tool to help criminal defense lawyers uncover the applicable R and use this information to obtain outstanding sentencing results for their client. Whatever the case, the podcast seems to have a struck a chord, because it is the second most popular podcast Doug has posted thus far, and all his guests have been terrific! Check out the podcast on Apple devices at the link above, on YouTube, or head over to Doug’s website, and listen to it online.