How to write a character reference letter to a judge for a friend before his sentencing

Written by catherine capozzi
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How to write a character reference letter to a judge for a friend before his sentencing
Character letters can influence a judge's decision-making. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

You do not have to be a defence attorney to make a difference in the outcome of a friend' trial. Most judges take into account character letters written by friends and family members when deciding sentencing. Though your letter will likely not get the person exculpated from the crime, it has the potential to make the judge rule closer to the minimum sentence range.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Address the judge by her full name and profession: "To the Honorable Judge Warren." List your full name and contact information in the upper-left corner of the document to ensure the court can contact you and verify any of the enclosed information.

  2. 2

    Begin the letter by stating your relationship with the defendant. Disclose how long you have known him and in what capacity. For instance, "I have known Brian Taylor for 12 years as both friends and coworkers. I had the privilege of working with him at the tech consulting firm, Widget Inc."

  3. 3

    If positive, emphasise his reputation in the community. Highlight any volunteer activities, contributions to charitable organisation, leadership roles and other positive acts of kindness. Explain how his absence would impact his neighbourhood and how many people rely on his presence for the continuation of certain activities: "Brian has been an active member in the Parent Teacher Association. He organises the school's fundraisers, hosts after school tutoring activities and teaches recycling programs."

  4. 4

    Mention the ways in which the crime he committed deviates from his personality. If, for example, he robbed a bank, explain how you have always trusted him and would continue to do so despite his colossal error. If the crime is drug-related, emphasise how you would be willing to take all measures necessary to get him into a treatment centre. The law firm of Broden and Mickelsen recommend suggesting the ways you can help with advice, a place to live or offer other services for him if he were released into society.

  5. 5

    Express his positive personality traits and provide short, personal anecdotes related to his character. Mention if he serves as a second father to your kids or how he serves as the backbone of the family by organising holidays. List the ways his close friends and family are impacted by his absence.

  6. 6

    Write your willingness to appear before the court to offer support or provide a verbal statement.

Tips and warnings

  • Do not say anything disparaging about the law enforcement agents or prosecutor, and do not express any of your personal thoughts about the validity of the justice system. With the exception of expressing regret and remorse for your friend's actions, keep the letter in a positive light.
  • Contact his attorney before you submit the letter. Read its contents to her --- she will provide pointers, edits and additional insight.

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