December 10, 2021 | Criminal Defense
If you have been convicted of a crime and facing a sentencing hearing, you may want to talk to your Dayton criminal defense lawyer about character letters. Effective character letters can help sway the judge to order a lighter sentence. In addition, if character witnesses are not permitted at your sentencing hearing, a character letter may be the only way for you to inform the judge know about your character before sentencing.
How to Write an Effective Character Letter in a Criminal Case
If you are composing a character letter for a family member, friend, or associate, these tips can help you write a compelling, effective, and successful letter.
Find Out the Name of the Presiding Judge
“To whom it may concern” is not as effective as a letter written directly to the judge who will sentence the defendant. You can check with the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer or call the clerk of court to ask for the judge’s name.
Explain Your Relationship to the Defendant
Anyone can write a character letter for a defendant. However, the judge wants to know why your opinion about the defendant’s character should matter. In other words, why should the judge listen to you?
Therefore, explain your relationship to the defendant at the beginning of the letter. Explain how you met the defendant and how close you are to the defendant. A long, close relationship gives your statement more credibility because your statements about the defendant’s character will be based on a long history of actual facts and knowledge.
However, do not discount the weight of your statements, even if you have only known the defendant for a short time. Landlords, employers, co-workers, teachers, and other professionals who have worked closely with and had a positive relationship with the defendant can write persuasive character reference letters.
Keep Your Letter Positive
When you write your character letter, describe the defendant’s positive attributes. Be as specific as possible.
If you are the defendant’s pastor, describe specific instances that highlight the defendant’s compassion, character, and honesty. Likewise, employers should talk about the qualities that make the defendant a good employee and give specific examples of how the defendant benefits the business.
Judges will read character letters that give glowing references to the defendant’s qualities. However, suppose the letter does not contain specific details and examples of these characteristics. In that case, the judge may discount your letter as nothing more than “fluff” to try to get the defendant a lighter sentence.
Do Not Lie or Stretch the Truth
Always be truthful when writing a character letter in a criminal case. Do not embellish or make things up about the defendant. If you are caught in a lie, you destroy any credibility you had with the court. Also, intentionally giving false statements to a court could get you into trouble.
Discuss the Crime
Do not act as if the defendant did not break the law. The person has pleaded guilty or been judged guilty in court. Therefore, address the criminal charges upfront, whether the charges involve theft, DUI, or some other crime.
Avoid making excuses for the defendant’s conduct. Instead, explain how the person has expressed remorse for their actions and wants to turn their life around. You can discuss mitigating circumstances without making excuses for committing the crime.
Do Not Tell the Judge What They Should Do
Never suggest a sentence for the defendant. Judges generally do not appreciate being told what they should or should not do when sentencing a defendant. Therefore, avoid discussing criminal penalties for the crime.
Instead, highlight how a potential criminal penalty could impact people in the defendant’s life. For example, suppose the defendant has an elderly parent or a minor child that depends on the defendant for support and care. You should explain how having the defendant at home would benefit these individuals.
Employers may want to highlight how the defendant’s absence negatively impacts the business. Give specific examples of how the sentence might affect the business because the defendant is a key employee.
If the defendant volunteers their time for community projects and non-profits, you can highlight how those organizations would benefit from having the defendant home.
Never discuss how the criminal penalties could make the defendant suffer. Instead, focus on how beneficial it would be for specific parties to have the defendant home working with and caring for them.
Always Consult the Defendant’s Criminal Defense Attorney
Before you send your character letter to the judge, the defendant’s attorney should review the letter. A criminal defense attorney understands what the judge wants to see and what statements could hurt the defendant’s case.
Lastly, keep your letter short and to the point. Judges may stop reading after the first page or two if the letter is too long.