When a friend is facing a court appearance, they want all the help they can get. Their lawyer will usually request certain people who know the defendant well to write a character reference letter that will help their client’s case. The most common reasons for character references in court are to mitigate sentencing for a crime and for gaining child custody. In some cases, a lawyer may request a negative character reference in order to increase the defendant’s sentence or to block the possibility of one parent gaining child custody.
When writing a character letter for court, the author must remember that the letter is addressed to the presiding officer of the court, and whatever is said must be true. The author must be ready to depose before the court as a character witness. It is always a good idea for the author of the letter to consult with the defendant’s lawyer about the content of the letter. While it shouldn’t have legal jargon, it should cover the relevant points. The lawyer can give the author the relevant points about the case, so they don’t claim the defendant didn’t do the crime if he or she has already pleaded guilty.
For court purposes, character references are usually the most successful for first offences or if the defendant is not guilty. The letter need not be written by a very important person in society, but can be written by a friend, wife, colleague, neighbor or a child. The important aspect of the letter is to provide positive information so that the defendant is not only judged on the basis of his or her crime.
Some of the details that need to be included in the letter are:
• The author’s name
• The author’s relationship with the defendant
• The length of time the author has known the defendant
• The author’s knowledge of the defendant’s character
• Some positive attributes of the defendant’s character
The letter should give some details about any points mentioned. For example, if the defendant is helpful to his or her elderly neighbors, some relevant detail can be mentioned such as they drive the neighbor to the grocery store every week.
If the author sincerely believes that the defendant is not guilty, it can be mentioned that the criminal act for which they are accused is Out of Character. Details can be given such as the defendant rarely drinks and has never been seen drunk, so it is highly unlikely that they started a barroom brawl. If the defendant has pleaded guilty, the author needs to mention that he is aware that the defendant has pleaded guilty to the crime.
If there is a chance that the defendant may lose something essential to his livelihood such as his driver’s license in the case of DUI, it can be mentioned that the defendant is extremely sorry for what he has done and had entered an alcohol rehabilitation program. His family would suffer hardship if he was unable to drive because it is essential for his sales job.
Here is a sample character reference letter that can be presented in court. It gives an idea of what should be said, but should not be followed exactly. Any letter written will have a better chance of success if it doesn’t appear to follow a template. The judge may not give it much credence if it appears to be a form letter and not an original letter.
Sample Character Reference Letter for Friend
Official Letterhead If Possible
City, State, Zip Code
Presiding Judge or Magistrate’s Name given by the defendant’s lawyer
RE: Character Reference for NAME OF DEFENDANT
The aim of this letter is to present the good character of [NAME]. We have been friends and worked together for the past 10 years as nurses in the [Name of Hospital]. I can confirm that she is careful, considerate, efficient and dedicated to the well-being of others. She has received several honors for her dedication to her work including Nurse of the Year for three consecutive years.
She is well-regarded among all the staff at the hospital as a person of high integrity and honesty. We have been together in several emergency situations, and she has always conducted herself with common sense and compassion.
I am aware that she has pleaded guilty to DUI. However, I wish to express that she is not a habitual drinker, and this unfortunate situation was most probably one-of-a-kind. She has expressed to me many times that she is extremely sensitive to her transgression and is sorry for it.
I hope this letter will give you an idea of her good character and help her get a second chance to prove this was an unusual occurrence.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.
Signature of Author
Printed name of Author