Writing a Character Reference Letter for Court

A character reference letter for court should address the points the accused’s attorney wants to emphasize, such as the defendant’s positive work history or positive steps he or she has taken to achieve important goals.

The most common reason to request that others write character reference letters is to mitigate sentencing in a criminal case. When you or someone you care about is facing criminal charges, it’s important to get all the support you can. Character reference letters are often very important evidence for you.

If you have questions about writing a character reference letter for court for a defendant, or if you’re a defendant in a criminal case, this post is for you.

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Who Should Write a Character Letter of Reference for Court?

A character reference letter doesn’t need to be from a high-profile or otherwise “important” individual. A spouse, child, work colleague, or friend can write an effective character letter reference on the defendant’s behalf. In fact, it’s beneficial to ask for character reference letters from anyone with positive and useful comments.

Character reference letters may be used to explain the defendant’s aspirations and goals to the judge. Character references helps to introduce the person, rather than the person’s alleged offenses, to the court.

What are the Essential Elements of a Character Reference Letter for Court?

Include the following tips in a character reference for court:

  1. Address the letter to the sentencing judge. Make sure that the judge’s name is correctly spelled. Don’t address a letter “To Whom It May Concern.”
  2. Explain your understanding of the defendant’s charges. If he is pleading guilty to the charges, write something like “I understand that Mary Jones is pleading guilty to drunk driving charges.” The judge will understand why you’re writing a character reference for the court.
  3. Learn if the defendant has been convicted of this criminal offense in the past. Logically, there’s no reason to argue that Mary Jones’s drunk driving offense is out of character if she has a prior DWI conviction. Don’t argue the facts of the case. Focus instead on Mary Jones’s positive attributes.
  4. Note how long you’ve known this person. By explaining how long you’ve known Mary Jones, you can say you’ve known them long enough to see positive changes. For instance, “I’ve known Mary Jones since she was 13 years old. She baby sat my children. She tutored three of my children in math. After she graduated from college, I employed Mary at my firm. Although Mary has had a difficult time because of her husband’s illness these past four years, she’s greatly matured in the past six months.”
  5. Provide details in the character reference for court. You could write “I’ve known Mary for two years. She’s a very kind person.” However, it’s better to write, “I’ve known Mary Jones for two years. She is the neighbor of my disabled son and helps him in so many ways. She’s generous with her time. I can honestly say that Mary is one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.” Realize that the judge reading the character reference letter won’t automatically associate “Mary” with the defendant, Mary Jones. Explain the individual you’re writing about in detail.
  6. Share information about how you know the individual. This may help the judge to assess how much value to give to your character reference. Be scrupulously honest in your character reference. Prepare to be deposed as a character witness if necessary.
  7. Offer an opinion of the individual’s personality. Explain what you truly think of Mary Jones. Cite Mary Jones’s positive qualities you’d want to share with the judge if you were discussing Mary with him face to face.
  8. Add other positive facts about the individual’s behavior, work, or activities. If Mary Jones looks after sick people, works as a volunteer, teaches Sunday School or coaches the girls’ softball team, provide these facts in the character reference letter. Like all people, Mary has some fine qualities. It’s your task to explain these to the judge.
  9. Inquire about how or if the conviction will affect the individual’s work. In this example, you’re Mary Jones’s employer. Express your concerns about how to help Mary keep her job. If she can’t drive, she can’t operate a company car. What alternatives are possible under the circumstances? Loss of Mary’s driver’s license will be very difficult. Are you willing to pay for Mary to attend an in-patient alcohol rehabilitation center?
  10. Include any other relevant details. Include more positive information about Mary, such as “Mary Jones lost her husband to a long illness quite recently. She was the family’s sole support for more than four years. She realizes the importance of regaining sobriety and responsibility. She regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings now.
  11. Sign and date the character reference letter for court. Provide your contact details. Invite the recipient of the character reference letter to contact you for more information.
  12. Send the character reference letter to the defendant’s attorney before it’s required. Get the letter to Mary Jones’s lawyer before he needs it. Your letter may provide useful information to Mary’s attorney about his client. It’s always a good idea to give the lawyer time to review the character reference letter before sending it to the judge.
  13. Avoid discussing any potential penalty or punishment for the defendant. Leave these considerations to the court.
  14. Put the character reference letter for court on letterhead when possible. As Mary Jones’s employer, write the letter on business letterhead. This gives weight to the content of the letter.
  15. Don’t copy a character reference form letter. Personalize your reference letter to the judge.

How Many Character References for Court Should the Defendant Get?

There’s no required number. Typically, the more character reference letters you receive for court, the better.

Your criminal defense attorney can always select the best letters to present if the judge is pressed for time.

When Should the Defendant Request Character Reference Letters for Court?

Character reference letters are frequently most successful for the first-time offender or when the defendant isn’t guilty.

All character reference letters must include 1) the author’s full name, 2) his or her relationship to the defendant, 3) the period of time the author has known the accused, 4) the author’s knowledge about the accused’s character, and 5) positive attributes of his or her character.

If the writer of a character reference letter truly believes that the accused isn’t guilty, he or she should mention that the offense the accused is facing is out of character. For instance, if Mary Jones never drinks and hasn’t been seen drunk, it’s out of character for Mary Jones to be accused of drunk driving.

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Why Must I Request Character Reference Letters for Court?

If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty of an offense, character reference letters from his or her relatives, employers, and friends can be helpful. Many strong letters of personal support may sway the judge to sentence at the lower tier of the sentencing guidelines range.

In addition to the character reference letters of support, up to three character witnesses may address the court at the sentencing hearing. Discuss the matter of character witnesses with your criminal defense lawyer.

Contact an Experienced Texas Criminal Defense Attorney

Character reference letters for court may be an important factor in mitigating an offender’s sentence. They can also help the court to better view the individual on trial.

If you or someone you care about is facing a serious criminal charge, you need a knowledgeable Texas criminal defense attorney. He will use the facts of your case to create a custom defense strategy.

Call The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp in Houston at 713-868-6100 to schedule an initial case consultation now.