How to write a letter requesting leniency in sentencing

Updated March 23, 2017

When a person is convicted of a criminal offence, the judge who is presiding over the case decides what his sentence will be. Sentencing could involve incarceration in county jail or state prison, probation, community service or restitution. The defendant's family, friends and colleagues can submit letters to the judge requesting leniency in his sentencing. They may ask the judge to not send the defendant to jail, or they may ask for less time in jail than what the conviction typically carries.

State who you are, how you know the defendant and how long you have known the defendant. Describe the nature of your relationship so that the judge understands how well you know him. If you've worked with him for 10 years, write that. Be completely honest with everything that you write.

Describe the defendant's positive qualities. Use adjectives such as "courteous," "responsible," and "trustworthy." Provide specific examples of interactions you have had with her. For example, if she has babysat your children, tell the judge that you trusted her with them and that she did a great job.

Acknowledge the situation and tell the judge why the defendant should receive a lighter sentence. If this is the defendant's first criminal conviction, state that in your letter. Explain that the defendant would be more valuable to society if he received community service instead of jail time, and that you do not believe he poses a threat to the public. If he is a parent, stress that his children and family need him to be present and that being in jail would be most detrimental to his kids.

Ask for something specific. If you want the defendant to avoid jail time, ask the judge to excuse her from incarceration and instead put her on probation with electronic monitoring, or require her to complete community service. If she has been convicted of a felony that involves considerable time in jail or prison, ask the judge to shorten her sentence or make her eligible for parole sooner.


Type your letter and use a plain, professional font, such as Times New Roman in size 12. Spell-check it and proofread it. You want your letter to appear professional and carefully prepared, not as if it were written in a rush. Submit it on time and follow any instructions from the court or the defendant's attorney.

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About the Author

Talia Kennedy has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in "The New York Times," "San Francisco Chronicle" and "The Sacramento Bee," among others. Kennedy has a master's degree from the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.