How to write a letter of support to a sentencing judge

Written by scott simpson
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How to write a letter of support to a sentencing judge
A letter of support requests leniency from the sentencing judge. (Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

A letter of support is used in criminal proceedings by a judge to aid him in applying a justified sentence to a convicted defendant. Judges are often mandated by law to apply certain sentences for specific crimes, however sentencing guidelines are often in ranges. For example the sentence for burglary could be five to 10 years. The goal of a letter of support is to persuade the judge to lean more towards the five years. A letter of support should not discuss the merits of the case or discuss any of the evidence or prosecution against the defendant. Letters of support are not taken into consideration during a trial, only in the sentencing hearing.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging


  1. 1

    Explain to the judge the circumstances surrounding your relationship with the defendant. The judge needs to know how long you have known the defendant and in what capacity. It is in the defendant's best interest to request letters of support from individuals who have known him for a long period of time and are therefore qualified to comment on his moral character or background.

  2. 2

    Detail the moral character of the defendant in the body of the letter. Give the judge examples of scenarios or circumstances in which the defendant behaved in an unusually productive and positive manner. Acknowledge that you understand the defendant made a mistake, but that you can provide many examples of times in which the defendant made the right decision and proved herself worthy of leniency.

  3. 3

    Inform the judge of ways in which you can help the defendant after sentencing. The judge may be interested to know if you have any means of supporting or helping the defendant after release. Explain how you are going to work with the defendant to change his life after sentencing and aid him in the goal of returning to society and becoming an upstanding member of society again.

  4. 4

    Summarise all of the reasons the judge should exercise her discretion by issuing a lenient sentence.

Tips and warnings

  • The tone of the letter should be respectful of the judge. Acknowledge the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the defendant and don't try to make excuses.
  • Do not attempt to relitigate the case against the defendant. For sentencing purposes, the judge is required to believe that the defendant has committed the crime he was charged with.

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