Character letters serve several purposes. Writing a letter to the judge could help influence a child custody decision, or it could affect the sentencing of an individual convicted of a crime.
Somebody you know might call on you to write a letter for the sentencing portion of a trial. In this letter, you might persuade the judge to impose a minimal sentence based on prior behavior and actions.
Of course, this might leave you with many questions. What kind of letter should you write? What information should you offer? Here are a few tips about writing character letters for court.
Understand the Goal of Your Letter
As you write your letter, you must keep in mind your goal for the letter. You must establish credibility for yourself, all the while creating a respectful image of the defendant or person of interest. In fact, your first paragraph should seek to establish credibility.
You can appear a credible reference by detailing how long you have known the individual you are writing about, and you should discuss how you came to know this individual. If you are a member of the clergy, a teacher, a friend, a relative, or an employer, ensure that you state this relationship right away.
You also add credibility by tying yourself to the community. Consider why the judge should listen to you over somebody else. What makes you the best choice to offer this information? Make sure to answer questions the judge may have about your authority.
Do Not Get Sidetracked
A reference letter should be persuasive, but it should not begin to delve into contention with the judicial system or the jury. Rather, offer a glimpse into the life of the individual you are writing about. Try to paint a full picture of this individual for the judge.
You may think it is detrimental to mention the trouble the defendant is in, but the truth is it actually helps. You should acknowledge the consequences of the conviction and speak to the severity of the issues at play.
In the same vein, avoid saying that the individual in question is guilty or not guilty. If the judge is reading your letter for sentencing, he or she is no longer concerned with thoughts of guilt.
You should also avoid trying to make excuses for the defendant’s behavior. If the individual pleaded guilty, you are not helping the situation by trying to explain why they behaved the way they did.
Provide Specific Examples
You can also do a lot for the individual in question by offering specific instances in which you observed the defendant operating with good character. For instance, maybe you saw the individual helping another person of their own volition. Maybe you were able to count on them during a difficult time.
Pay Attention to Your Greeting
The greeting of your letter should begin with “The Honorable John Smith” or “Judge Jane Smith.” You should respect the judge’s title even if you do not agree with the ruling of the court.
Check With an Attorney First
No two courts have exactly the same requirements for character letters, but one of the biggest rules is that you should submit letters to the defense attorney rather than send them to the judge or the court.
The criminal defense attorney can also read over your letter if you are not sure what you need to say. The attorney understands how difficult it is to write a character letter for the courts, so you will find empathy and professional assistance.
Do you have additional questions about writing character letters or providing testimony for court? Are you facing criminal charges and need to secure a defense? Mesenbourg & Sarratori Law Offices, PA, can help. Call today to see how an attorney can help.