How to Write a Character Reference for a Defendant

Written by jennifer vanbaren
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How to Write a Character Reference for a Defendant
Defendants often obtain character reference letters from friends. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Judges read character reference letters to gain a better understanding of who a defendant is. Friends, relatives and clergy are among those who typically write these types of letters. A character reference letter explains a person's opinion of another person. It is used to help define who that person is by listing a person's character traits. Judges often use these letters to help decide on the sentencing of the defendant.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Determine if you should write the letter. If the defendant in a trial asks you to write a character reference, think about the person, how well you know him and whether or not you can provide a positive character reference letter.

  2. 2

    Address the letter. Judges are considered highly respected professionals. When addressing a letter to the judge, write either "Presiding Judge" or "Your Honor."

  3. 3

    Introduce yourself. A character reference letter should always begin with the writer introducing himself. When you introduce yourself, you are building credibility with the judge. Include important details about yourself such as your qualifications, degrees you hold, skills and titles. Include the relationship you have with the defendant and state the length of time you have known him.

  4. 4

    Describe the defendant. Using positive words, tell the judge what your opinion of the defendant is. Use adjectives -- such as "honest" or "responsible" -- that describe his character. Discuss any types of volunteer work that he is involved with as well. Try not to exaggerate, never say anything negative and be as honest as possible.

  5. 5

    Include a story. A character reference letter should generally be around one to two pages long. If you have room to include a story that demonstrates the defendant's character in a positive way, write it in the letter.

  6. 6

    Discuss other details. It is often a good idea to include the crime he is being charged with in the letter and how he is pleading. Do not try to overlook or underestimate the seriousness of the charge and do not offer an opinion for sentencing.

  7. 7

    Sign and date the letter. Mail it or drop it off at the courthouse.

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