Once a defendant is convicted of a crime, the court begins to consider an appropriate sentence. Among the things judges weigh are the severity of the crime, the impact on the victim and the past behaviour of the defendant. Often, the defendant's friends, family members and employers write character letters to judges. Judges do take the content of these letters into consideration in their sentencing decisions, and your well-written character letter can make a difference in the sentence imposed.
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Type the letter if possible, and if not, print legibly or write it in longhand. Make sure you have the case name and number on the letter. Address it to The Hon. Jane Doe and begin it with either "Dear Judge Doe" or "Your Honor." If you don't have any of this information, call the clerk of the court or the court administrator for the court in which the case is being heard.
Make the letter long enough to give the judge a good idea of your knowledge of the defendant's character, but not too long that you lose his interest. Two or three double-spaced pages is a good length--four at the outside. Separate each idea into an individual paragraph, so the letter appeals to the eye.
Close the letter with "Sincerely" or "Yours truly," leave four spaces and type or print your name legibly. Then sign your name in the four-space blank.
Speak from the heart. Tell the judge how long you've known the person and how you know her.
Cast your relationship in the best light. If you only met the defendant six months ago, that may seem like too little time to know someone's character. But if you've known him for six months and worked closely with him every day, that gives more weight to your opinion.
Keep in mind that you likely know a different side of the defendant than the one the judge saw during trial. Your goal is to bring that person to life for the judge. Think about her best traits and then think about stories or situations that will illustrate them.
Be specific about his character. Rather than saying the defendant is a good person, tell the judge a story that illustrates that trait. If he drove you to your doctor's appointment every week for two years, that shows the judge that he can be kind and committed and put someone else's interests ahead of his own.
Include in your letter any difficulties a particular sentence might cause. Don't request a particular sentence, but if you know jail time would be difficult because she is raising her child alone, tell the judge.
Review the letter. Make sure you've spelt names correctly and that the address of the court is correct.
Ask someone you trust to read the letter to check for any mistakes you missed and to make sure you've expressed your ideas clearly.
Mail your letter well before the sentencing hearing, so the judge has time to review it.
Tips and warnings
- Maintain a respectful, positive tone. Don't be critical of the police, the prosecutor or the victim. Don't say things aren't fair, even if you don't believe they are.
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