How to write a character reference for court

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Magistrates in the court take character references into consideration when handing down a sentence for someone found guilty of a crime. The purpose of a character reference is to provide insight into the character of the person and to portray how he is viewed by the community. Character references may be written by friends, neighbours, family members or professionals, such as doctors. Good character references can influence the sentence handed down, so it is important to write them properly.

Make a list of character traits you want to include before you start to write your letter for the court. Consider characteristics such as community-minded, generous and family-oriented. Identify specific examples to help illustrate your character assessment.

Use letterhead for your letter to the court, if possible. Otherwise, type your return address, telephone number and the date in the upper left-hand corner. Letters to the court must be typed. If you don't have a computer, ask a friend or family member to type it for you.

Use the salutation "To The Presiding Magistrate." Adopt the block-style letter format. This mean that all lines start on the left-hand margin and there is a space left between paragraphs.

Write in clear, easy-to-understand English. Avoid run-on sentences and don't use a big word when a small one will do. Aim for a sincere, businesslike tone. Character references that are too flowery don't sound authentic.

Indicate in what capacity and for how long you have known the accused. If, for instance, you are a neighbour, write, "I have lived next door to Janice Hopkins for 13 years and during that time we have become close friends."

Establish why you are qualified to give a character reference, as credibility is very important for character references. Phrases such as "Jim Hawkins has been a patient in my medical clinic for 10 years" indicates that you have insight into the person and his character.

Support the character traits of the person with concrete examples. Think of instances where the person was community-minded or generous with her time. Offer anecdotes to paint a picture of the person for the magistrate.

Comment on whether the individual expressed regret or remorse for what he did. Again, support your statement with an example of what he said or did that indicated he felt ashamed of what he'd done.

Assess whether the behaviour was out of character for the individual. Identify any mitigating circumstances that may have triggered the incident. Factors such as losing a job or the break up of a marriage can sometimes lead to erratic behaviour, so specify the factors that came into play.

Check your original list to make sure you didn't forget to mention any of the traits you identified. Edit your character reference for the court accordingly.

Review your character reference after a day or so. Look at it with a fresh eye and correct any spelling or typing mistakes. Put yourself in the magistrate's place as you read your letter aloud. Assess it for tone and sincerity.

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