How to write Character Reference Letters
How to Write a Character Letter to a Judge
A character letter is a letter written on behalf of a criminal defendant by someone who knows the defendant. In a character letter, the author attempts to persuade a judge to impose a minimal sentence upon the defendant by vouching for the defendant's good character. A good character letter (or better yet, a number of good character letters) can persuade a judge that despite this criminal conviction, the defendant is a valued member of the community who deserves leniency in his or her sentencing.
Formatting the Letter
Choose your materials.A professional-looking letter should by typed on high quality paper and signed with an ink pen. A clean sheet of white 8.5"x11" printer paper is acceptable. You can also find "business" or "résumé" paper, which is usually thicker, and cream or off-white in color. When typing your letter, choose a professional looking font that is legible and large enough to be easily read.
- If you are handwriting your letter, avoid using lined or binder-style paper. Use a ruler or other straightedge to keep your handwriting straight as your write across the page. Make your handwriting as legible as possible.
Write the letter on letterhead, if you can.If you have access to letterhead (official stationery with the name and address of a person, business, or organization at the top), use it.The letterhead could be the official stationery of your workplace.By using a business's letterhead, you imply that you have authority to communicate on behalf of the business, which conveys a level of responsibility and trust.
- If you are an employee, get permission to use your employer's letterhead for a personal matter before you write your letter.
Give your personal information.If you are not using letterhead, provide your personal information to identify yourself. In the top left, write your:
- City, state, and zip code
- Telephone number and/or email address
Date the letter.Leave a blank line after your personal information, then type the date on which you are writing the letter. Write out the date rather than abbreviating it, as in "September 21, 2015" instead of "9/21/15."
Addressing the Letter
Write the inside address.The inside address (the address written on the letter itself, as opposed to the "outside address" written on the envelope) should include the recipient's full name, title, and mailing address. Leave a blank line below the date, then write the judge's name and address. Use the judge's professional address, which is usually the courthouse in which he or she works. For example:
- The Honorable [Full Name], Judge of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Chatsworth Courthouse, 9425 Penfield Avenue, Chatsworth, CA 91311.
Indicate what case you are writing about.Beneath the inside address, let the judge know the subject of your letter. Use "Re:" (an abbreviation for "regarding" or "with reference to"), followed by a brief identifying phrase.
- For example, "Re: Sentencing of Jane Doe, Case No. W017344"
Begin with a salutation.Write "Dear Judge (last name)," to start the message of your letter. Note that you should use "the Honorable" when referring to the judge, but use "Judge" addressing him or her directly. The titles are still used even if the judge has retired.
- The word "Dear" is always appropriate in a business context, and does not necessarily mean that the person is dear to you. It is simply a proper opening salutation.
Writing the Body of the Letter
Identify yourself and state your profession.In the first paragraph of the letter, begin by introducing yourself and stating what type of work you do. Do not be modest about your credentials, especially if your career places you in a position of high esteem in your community. You want to show that the defendant has a positive relationship with you, a productive and respective member of the community.
- For example you might write: "I am a local small business owner, and have served this community for fifteen years."
Acknowledge the trouble the defendant is in.By letting the judge know that you are aware of what charges the defendant faces, you communicate to the judge that you are still willing to offer your support in spite of the defendant's trouble with the law.For example, you might write, "Mr. Smith has informed me that he faces charges related to possession of narcotics. In light of these circumstances, I am happy to offer an endorsement of Mr. Smith's good character."
State how you know the defendant.Your next sentence should specify how you know the defendant, and for how long you have known him or her. Tell the judge whether the defendant is a family member, friend, business associate, member of your church, etc.
Give reasons why you support the defendant.You will need to persuade the judge that the defendant deserves leniency. Explain why you believe he or she deserves a second chance, and how the defendant can continue to have a positive impact on his or her family and community.Mention why the defendant is needed at home or work, and how his or her family and community will be negatively impacted while he or she serves a jail or prison term.
- Use specific examples of when you observed the defendant's good character. Describe a time you saw the defendant go out of his way to help someone in need. For example, "One afternoon, Mr. Smith noticed that one of our neighbors was struggling to make some repairs to his home. I observed Mr. Smith offer his assistance, as well as his own tools and supplies. This instance, among many others, is indicative of Mr. Smith's reputation for helpfulness and generosity in our neighborhood."
- Take as much space as you need for this section, but no more than you need. Judges' schedules are very busy, so your judge will appreciate a letter that are carefully edited. Put your most powerful arguments first, and phrase your reasoning as succinctly as you can.
Proofread the letter.Once you have finished writing it, re-read your letter several times and have someone else read it for you. Make sure your letter is easy to understand and free from errors spelling and grammatical. Once your letter is as straightforward, to-the-point, and error-free as you can make it, it is ready to send.
Contact the defendant's defense attorney.Do not send your letter directly to the judge. Defense attorneys prefer that their clients’ friends and relatives give the letter to the attorney first so that the attorney review the letter and verify that there is no information in the letter that may be damaging to the defendant’s case.
- If you know someone else who might be willing to write a good character letter for the defendant, let the defendant's attorney know. The attorney may be looking for as many people as he or she can find to write character letters on behalf of the client.
QuestionHow do I end a letter?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerDon't ramble on. Include something that will help the judge see the point you are making more clearly.Thanks!
Is it ok to email the letter?
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