When writing a character reference letter to a judge for someone, it's important to know the purpose of the letter, sincere knowledge of the defendant and a belief in what it is you are requesting. Clarity of thought, sincerity and credibility are key. Each can be established through a succinct and well thought out letter that establishes your relationship to the defendant, the reasons for your request and professionalism.
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Contact the defendant's defence attorney to determine what function your character reference letter will serve. Since these letters are used at different phases of the criminal justice process, an effective letter would be tailored toward a specific goal, such as the dismissal of charges, the reduction of bail, consideration in sentencing or expungement.
Get the name of the judge presiding over the case. You will need to address her directly. Again, the defence attorney is the best source for accurate information. If you're unable to get the name of the judge, it is acceptable to address the court instead, such as directing correspondence to "The Superior Court of (insert name) County."
Construct a first draft of the letter. In the first paragraph, include your name, relationship to the defendant, the length of time you've known the defendant, your contact information and occupation.
Write the second paragraph, focusing here on the character of the defendant. It is not enough to argue that he is a good person. You must show how the defendant's character lends itself or is in accord with the request you are making. For example, a reference letter asking for a dismissal of charges should focus on the ways the defendant has matured or changed for the better since being charged. Specific examples of community involvement, church activity and evidence of good character or deeds should be included. A letter asking for a reduction of bail should illustrate how the alleged crime runs contrary to the defendant's customary behaviour. Examples of good character and contributions to his community are essential.
Write the closing paragraph by opening with a direct request for dismissal, reduction of bail, sentencing consideration or expungement. Briefly reiterate your reasons and thank the judge for his time.
Type the letter in business format. It is essential that your letter appear clean, professional and free of any grammatical errors. Use spell and grammar check, print the letter and sign it.
Give the letter to the defendant's attorney, unless otherwise directed.
Tips and warnings
- A reference letter used for sentencing consideration should include specific observations of the defendant's remorse about the crime, positives about the defendant's character and contributions to the community.
- A reference letter for expungement should include ways the defendant has matured and changed for the better since conviction, examples or evidence of good character and specific contributions to the community.
- Above all, a letter must seem sincere. This can be achieved by sharing specific observations or interactions with the defendant and honesty.
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