In most states, sentences in criminal cases are determined by the judge. Suppose one is guilty or pleads guilty to a crime. In that case, the judge looks at a number of elements before deciding on the appropriate punishment. For instance, the defendant’s criminal history, age of the accused, and the condition under which they committed the crime.
One element that can be very helpful during sentencing is a character letter. Character letters can be written by people who know the accused and speak to their character, personality, and abilities like friends or family. A character letter is considered effective only if it’s well written and gives a clear picture of the accused.
What is the Purpose of a Character Letter?
A character letter is a written formal letter that outlines personal details about an individual being accused of a crime. The purpose of this letter is to cast the accused in the most favorable light possible. Character letters can influence the court and can impact the judge’s decision in a criminal case greatly.
For this reason, the character letter;
- Should be respectful and should not belittle the defendant’s case
- Should establish your credibility
- It should paint a full and clear picture of the defendant
Below are some guidelines that can help in writing the best letter of character for court.
Tips for an Efficient Character Letter for Court
Writing a character letter can be a bit challenging, especially for those who’ve never written one or those with no experience regarding the criminal justice system. There are templates online on websites like CocoDoc to help you in drafting a recommendable character letter for court.
As you peruse the template, read on to understand more about how to write a good character letter.
Set the Stage
A character letter can only be written by individuals who know the defendant on a personal level. The writer should begin the character letter by describing how well they know the accused and how long they’ve known them. While family members are a great option to write a character letter, it can be much more effective if written by someone unrelated to you.
Describe Your Relationship with the Defendant
Give a concise summary as to how you know the defendant and for how long. Specify if you are a family member, employer, colleague or friend. The longer you know the defendant, the more important your reference letter worth is. However, this does not mean that you have to delve into your personal relationship with the defendant.
Avoid Belittling the Case
It can be a little tempting to write a character letter explaining how the accused isn’t really guilty, and how the accused pleaded guilty to a crime for a better punishment or even how the jury found it wrong. Such a letter will not benefit the defendant and can negatively impact his case.
Instead, focus on giving a clear story about the defendant using phrases like, “I respect that the jury has found “person Z” guilty of the offence charged. I am writing this letter to give a complete picture of who “person Z” is as a person. In this case, you are displaying respect for the court while demonstrating that the accused deserves a reduced sentence.
Check with the Lawyer
Before composing the character letter, check with the defendant’s lawyer as they can provide you with basic tips like how to format the letter. All correspondences should be sent to the lawyer and not directly to the judge.
The character letter should include your name, address, and phone number to make it easier for the court to ascertain your information and should be addressed to the honorable judge’s both names.
Know if the Defendant Expressed Guilt Concerning the Charges
Has the defendant expressed any remorse concerning the allegations? Are they willing to make amends and repent? Have they suffered in any way because of the offense? Such information can be helpful when writing a character letter.
Describe your Impression of the Overall Attitude of the Defendant
Describe the reputation and general outward behavior of the accused. It’s also important to mention that having committed the offense is out of the nature of the defendant. You can also go ahead and add some positive facts about the individual’s behavior, such as working as a volunteer and taking care of the aged in the character letter.
Understand the Realistic Outcome
Most writers make an “ask” for the court at the very end of a character letter. This can be as simple as asking for leniency, and, in some cases, the letter writer can make a sentencing appeal. If you wish to make a specific “ask,” check with the lawyer before making any request for a particular punishment to ensure your letter maintains its credibility.
Recognize the Charges Filed Against the Defendant
Express how the defendant felt by giving precise details of the situation that led to their present state. Do they feel regret and guilt for the offense they committed? Are they ready to undergo therapy to improve their behavior?
Add an Opinion About the Character of the Defendant
Don’t forget to mention what type of a person the accused is, if you think that it’s not in their purview to commit such a crime and why you think so. Does the individual accomplish their job or education? Predominantly, talk about the defendant’s general character and credibility.
Submit the Character Letter
Once you write the character letter, give it to the person to attend the hearing before the trial date or their solicitor. Before handing in reference, you can first clarify with the prosecutor.
Before deciding on what punishment the defendant should get, the judge can read the character letter. Its goal is to give the judge information concerning the accused person outside of the circumstance in question. Hence, the writer must establish a clear relationship with the accused person.
When writing the character letter, do not lie about anything because it can tear down your credibility as a character witness. Also, remember to keep it short and on point, do not give unnecessary information to avoid diversion from the primary purpose.