Generally, to allocute in law means "to speak out formally." In the field of apologetics, allocution is generally done in defense of a belief. In politics, one may allocute before a legislative body in an effort to influence their position on an issue. In law, it is generally meant to state specifically and in detail what one did and for what reason, often in relation to commission of a crime.
Allocution is sometimes required of a defendant who pleads guilty to a crime in a plea bargain in exchange for a reduced sentence. In this instance, allocution can serve to provide closure for victims or their families. In principle, it removes any doubt as to the exact nature of the defendant's guilt in the matter.
The term "allocution" is generally only in use in jurisdictions in the United States, though 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 himself will rarely have the opportunity to speak. The right of victims to speak at sentencing is also sometimes referred to as allocution.
In most United States jurisdictions a defendant is allowed the opportunity to allocute—that is, explain himself—before sentence is passed. Some jurisdictions hold this as an absolute right, and in its absence, a sentence 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 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).
In Australia the term "allocutus" will be used. It will be used by the Clerk of Arraigns or another formal associate of the Court. It will generally be 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") wherein he or she will 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.
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