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Strong letters of reference can influence a court to impose a lenient sentence

Before a judge or magistrate imposes a sentence, the accused’s lawyer will want the court to view the accused in a positive light. In addition to information about the accused that the lawyer will provide, it is helpful to submit character references that will help the court understand that the accused is well-regarded in the community.

Who should write a character reference?

Anyone can write a character reference but the court will give more weight to some than to others. Your family members know you better than anyone else does, but they are also likely to be biased. While a court might discount their statements for that reason, a moving letter from the accused’s mother or spouse might nevertheless be influential.

The best character references come from people who are respected members of the community. The accused’s employer, the director of an organization for which the accused did volunteer work, the local mayor, teachers, therapists, and members of the clergy are examples of people whose reference letters are most likely to impress the court.

The best character references also come from people who know the accused well and who have had recent contact with the accused. A letter from a current employer is of greater value than a letter from a teacher who has not seen the accused in twenty years.

If the crime occurred while the accused was using drugs or alcohol, the most important letters will come from drug or alcohol counselors or other treatment providers. Those letters should detail the accused’s participation in treatment and commitment to sobriety.

What information should the character reference provide?

A key mistake that people make is to ask for character references from people who do not know they have been convicted of a crime. If the letter does not mention the conviction, the court will assume that the person who wrote the letter does not know about it. The court will also assume that the writer’s opinion of the accused’s character might be different if the writer knew about the conviction.

A character reference should acknowledge the conviction and go on to explain that the conviction is out of character for the accused. The writer might want to say:

  • the accused feels genuine remorse for his criminal behavior
  • the accused has taken steps to change his attitude since the crime occurred (specifying the steps the accused has taken)
  • in all other aspects of the accused’s life, the accused has been honest (assuming that is true)
  • despite the conviction, the letter writer continues to regard the accused as trustworthy and dependable

The writer should explain how he or she knows the accused, how long they have known each other, and how much contact they have with each other. The letter should stress positive aspects of the accused’s life, including:

  • good deeds the accused has done for others
  • volunteer work the accused has done to help the community
  • positions of responsibility and trust the accused has held (handling money or taking care of property)
  • the accused’s reputation for decency in the community
  • if the letter is from an employer, the accused’s dedication to his or her job

Provide specific examples whenever possible. “Mike comes to work early every day, stays late when needed, and pitches in to help his co-workers” and “We have never had a shortage in the till when Mike works as a cashier” will have more impact on the court than “Mike is a good worker.”

Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.

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