It can be overwhelming to write a reference letter, especially when you don’t know the dos and don’ts. It’s even worse if it’s your first time crafting such a piece. A character reference letter is a strong element in proving the defendant has good character when presented to the court.
The following article highlights the meaning of character references and what to do when writing one. Let’s get into the details.
What is a character reference for court?
A character reference is a letter demonstrating the good character of an individual involved in a legal proceeding. The style and the content of this letter differ depending on the case. Writing a letter for a person involved in a minor offense, like ignoring certain traffic rules, or failing to file their tax return, is different from writing for a person involved in a serious criminal case.
The letter needs to emphasize the aspects the defendant’s lawyer is trying to voice out. Here is a sample character reference letter for court you can always use when stuck. The goal of this letter is to show the court that the person in question is a person of good character.
It presents a defendant’s character differently, way better than a criminal lawyer could present them. When writing, you have to mind your tone and the reference; the letter should have a formal and honest tone. It should be specific and clear to allow the judge or magistrate to reference the letter when passing out their verdict.
Who can give a character reference?
A character reference should be written by someone who knows you well and is in a position to write about you. They could range from family members, friends, and colleagues, whether in your past or present life.
It doesn’t have to be written by someone important.
The do’s of a character reference
1. Address the letter to the right person
The person you address would depend on the court of the defendant’s hearing. It could be the ‘sentencing magistrate’ or the ‘sentencing judge.’ Addressing the letter appropriately tells the magistrate or the judge that the letter is specifically meant for them and not for any other character.
For any other references inside the letter, use ‘your honor
2. Introduce yourself and the relationship and the individual in question
State who you are and what your occupation is. Give a summary of how you know the accused. Are you a relative, a co-worker, or their neighbor? It’s not enough to have known the person for a week or a month.
Stating how long you’ve known the individual gives the court insight into how well you know this individual. How often do you see them? The longer you know the person, the better it is for the reference letter.
3. Acknowledge the charges the person is facing
Acknowledge the mistake of the defendant. For instance, say something like, “I know John is pleading guilty to over speeding, or committing robbery, or whatever mistake they did.” Stating this makes the letter more credible.
Be aware of the challenges the accused is facing. Talk about how the accused is remorseful of what they have done or regrets how this turned out. If they were caught drinking and driving, say how they understand the consequences of their actions.
Talking to the person in question would give you an insight into how they feel about the whole situation.
- How do they feel concerning the incident?
- Have they paid for the damages or apologized to the victim?
- Was their reputation damaged?
Highlight the actions the individual in question has taken to salvage themselves from the situation. Whether it’s counseling or rehabilitation.
Also, highlight what may have prompted them to commit such an offense; examples could be mental issues or drug addiction problems and the step they are taking to become better individuals.
4. Talk of similar offenses
If the defendant has committed similar offenses, state that you know them. If the accused had done anything to address the situation, state in your reference letter the causes that may have prompted them to repeat the offense.
If you feel the offense was an isolated case, don’t hesitate to include that in the reference letter.
5. State your opinion
What kind of person is this? Are they good parents? State the good character, and don’t be a generalist. When stating a person is kind, state the act of kindness the person has committed, for instance, donating food.
Here are things to guide you when crafting this section
- What are the character and the reputation of the person in the community?
- Do they have a prior conviction, and does this affect your opinion about them?
- How has the person contributed to the growth of the community? What activities are they involved in the community?
- Do you think that the crime was out of character?
Provide context to the person’s life. State the quality of the defendant as if you are having a conversation with the judge.
6. Sign and date
Sign and date the character reference and include your contact details. Without this, the reference letter remains worthless.
Signing and dating assure the judge that the letter was prepared for that particular case.
The lawyer can even tell the prosecutor to ring you and confirm you are the one who has written the letter.
7. Use letterheads
If you have an official letterhead because of running your own business or working for an organization and are permitted, use it. A letterhead gives court insights about you and the position you hold in the community. Letterheads give weight to the character reference.
8. Allow the criminal defense lawyer to review the letter
A lawyer might have suggestions on what to add to increase the letter’s credibility. They also know what to remove if it will hurt the case. The letter needs to be concise.
The don’ts of a character reference
1. Don’t delve into the history of how you know the accused
Judges and magistrates are busy individuals and may get bored with irrelevant information. Try making your character reference a page long.
2. Don’t suggest a penalty
Don’t tell the judge and magistrate what to do. First, likely, you don’t understand the full details of the case, and suggesting a penalty might annoy the judges. Just state the positives regarding the defendant, and let the lawyer do the rest when submitting the sentencing.
3. Don’t argue against the charges
Don’t say that the person is not guilty of the offense they are charged with. A character reference is presented to the court after a guilty plea or a conviction. Instead, include any detrimental consequences the offender might face when convicted.
For instance, ‘it may prevent them from fully taking care of the children especially if they are the sole breadwinner.’
If you are an employer, talk of how incredible they were with their work; losing them would be a major blow to your organization.
4. Lie about any information
Never include information that isn’t true or exaggerate on certain matters. No one is perfect, and the judge knows this. A character reference is only credible when true. Intentionally presenting false information can lead to court charges against you.
Better your character reference
Always be truthful when writing a character reference letter. Don’t be deceiving, as lying has its own repercussions. You may get into serious problems when you decide to deceive the court.
Also, you should get the references to the lawyer early for them to look at areas that require further clarification and ensure everything is in order.
Lastly, Include any relevant information useful to the defendant’s case.
1. How many character references should a person get?
There is no specific number of reference letters a person can get. The more character references you get, the better. You can always choose the ones you want to present in a court of law.
2. How do you write a good character letter for the court?
First, you must address the letter to the judge or the magistrate. Clearly state your relationship with the defendant. Always be truthful. Don’t suggest a penalty or suggest how the ruling should unfold.
Also, acknowledge the crime committed by the accused and discuss your relationship with the defendant. Discuss how long you have known the person in question, and highlight their positive attributes. Don’t forget to include your contact information.
3. How do you set out the reference?
Write the character reference as you would a letter. Type it out and include a letterhead if you have one.
First, you need to put a date on top of the reference. Next, address the letter to either the judge or the magistrate, depending on the court the hearing is at. Start all the references with your honor.
Include your name and phone number, then sign the reference at the end of your writing.
Give the character reference to a person going to court, or send it to the lawyer. Do this before the hearing date.