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Posted on November 5, 2020 in Arizona Law

Tips for an Effective Character Letter for a Judge

You might be asked to write a character letter for a friend, relative, or employee. As a defendant in a criminal case, you might ask someone to write a character letter for you. Character letters can be useful in some criminal cases to help mitigate the sentencing for a crime.

Because character witnesses at a sentencing hearing might be limited, character letters can be very important for giving a sentence a fuller understanding of the Defendant’s character. Your criminal defense lawyer will provide detailed information and instructions for character letters. Some additional tips to keep in mind are discussed below.

Six Tips for Writing an Effective Character Letter

1.  Address Your Letter Correctly

As with any formal letter, your letter needs to begin with the correct heading. Do not address your letter with the name “court,” “judge,” or “to whom it may concern.” Ask your criminal defense lawyer for the exact name the person should use when writing their character letter.

If you do not have a criminal defense lawyer, you can contact the clerk of court. Ask the clerk for the name of the presiding judge who will hear your case.

2.  Be Truthful

Do not include false statements in your character letter. Misleading the court can result in a criminal charge. Furthermore, a character letter that contains false statements could work against the Defendant.

3.  Explain Your Relationship to the Defendant

Include details about how you know or are related to the Defendant. Make sure to highlight how long you have known the Defendant. A long relationship with the Defendant highlights that you know the person and can offer insight into the person’s character based on years of observing the person’s actions.

4.  Include Positive Details About the Person’s Life

When describing how you know the Defendant, make sure that you include positive details about the Defendant’s life.

For example, the Defendant has a steady job history. The Defendant attends church regularly or works with community groups to improve the community. Any examples that you can provide to demonstrate that the Defendant is a positive and active member of the community is helpful.

You want to include as many specific examples as possible of the points you are making. Every character reference letter tells the judge that a Defendant is a great person. However, the judge wants to hear concrete examples of how the Defendant has a history and reputation of being honest, generous, giving, hardworking, and trustworthy.

In this section of the character letter, you can also discuss the negative consequences of a sentence on the people who depend on the Defendant. For example, if you are an ex-partner, you could discuss how your children will suffer if their other parent is in jail. Your child will be without the guidance, support, and care of their parent, but you will also be without the financial support the Defendant provides for your children.

If you are the Defendant’s employer, you could describe how you will need to terminate the Defendant if he cannot drive because of a license suspension. If you are a director for an organization that the Defendant volunteers for on a regular basis, you can discuss how the Defendant’s absence negatively impacts the individuals who benefit from the organization.

5.  Discuss the Criminal Charges Against the Person

You need to let the judge know that you are aware that the Defendant is accused of a crime. You also want the judge to know that you are aware of the circumstances of the crime. If you intend to comment about how the Defendant has expressed remorse and regret for committing the crime, the judge needs to know that you also understand the circumstances that have brought the Defendant before the judge.

Do not make excuses for the Defendant’s behavior. If there are mitigating circumstances, state those circumstances clearly, but also state they are not excuses for the behavior.

6.  Never Suggest Potential Penalties

Your character letter should focus on the Defendant’s positive character traits. Do not try to tell the judge what criminal penalty is appropriate for the crime. Judges are generally not impressed nor happy with character letters that try to tell them how to do their job.

Some Final Thoughts and Reminders

A character letter’s goal is to provide the court with information regarding the Defendant’s character outside of this specific situation. However, you must first establish that you are a credible, trustworthy source. Therefore, tip numbers two and three above are essential.

You must establish a clear relationship with the Defendant that gives you a credible source of insight into the Defendant’s character. Do not embellish or lie about anything because that immediately destroys your credibility as a character witness.

Keep your character letter short and to the point. Do not ramble or get sidetracked with information that is unnecessary to your goal.

Always check with the person’s criminal defense lawyer before submitting the character letter to the court. The criminal attorney may want to review the letter to ensure that the letter does not include statements that could potentially hurt the person’s case instead of improving it.