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State and Federal Criminal Defense Representation

Tips for a Powerful Character Letter for a Judge


After being convicted or pleading guilty to a criminal offense, the post-conviction phase begins. While some former defendants may feel powerless at this point, there are steps they can take to improve their standing before the court. One of these important tools is a character letter.

At the Law Office of Diane Bass, A Professional Law Corporation, we have extensive history defending clients in both local criminal court and federal criminal court.

Why Are Character Letters Important?

Character letters are a very important part of the process of a criminal case, especially in federal court. This is a tool that we can use to get the prosecutor and the judge and the probation office to really understand who you are as a person, to humanize you so you’re not just another file on their desk. The content of the letters can affect how you are viewed and may impact your sentence.

What Does an Effective Character Letter Say?

People ask all the time, “Is there a form that I can use as a template or as something to copy to write a character letter?” The answer is no. You do not want your character letters to look like a form letter all written by the same person. The judge will notice if the wording is the same or if they are all written on the same paper, letterhead, and font. Each letter should reflect the personal voice of the person writing it.

Ask people to write you a letter that states how they know you, how long they’ve known you, and what their thoughts are about you. Depending upon the kind of case it is, you may want them to focus more on either your honesty or your reliability or your kind-heartedness. The letters do not have to be long or complicated but should be genuine.

The letters should not include personal information like address and phone number. The judge is not going to call. If the letter is coming from a business, it is OK if the letter is on that business’ letterhead.

Letters do not have to be written in English. Your lawyer can have the letter translated to submit an English version to court.

Who Should Write a Character Letter?

You can get letters from everyone and anyone. Family members are obviously going to be a little more biased, but they’re also going to be a lot more personal. Family reference letters are perfectly fine.

Make sure to also ask for letters outside of your family. Employers can include information about your reliability, ability to work with others, and dedication. If you go to a church or temple or a mosque, any letters from any leaders in that organization would be helpful. If you have kids, their teachers or their friends’ parents can attest to your commitment to your children, how you are a great parent, and how much you contribute to the community. Letters from somebody with a respected reputation, especially a member of law enforcement, will get a judge’s attention but this is not crucial.

How Many Characters Letters Are Best?

In most situations, try to gather at least 10 different character letters. You may need to be persistent because people are busy and can forget to write the letter. Bug them, if necessary, as your future may depend partly on their words. Continue to gently remind them until they get it to you. While 10 letters is a good place to start, there is such a thing as too many. More is not necessarily better. The judge will read these letters prior to sentencing, and you do not want to annoy the judge by overwhelming them with a pile of letters. Think quality over quantity. You want to give the judge a representative sample of who you are as a person.

Do the Writers Have to Know the Purpose of the Letters?

It’s understandable that you may not want friends or colleagues to know that you are in trouble. Don’t let that feeling prevent you from asking. You don’t have to tell them the true purpose of the letter. You can say that it’s for a job that you’re applying for, for school, or some other reason you would need a character witness. Judges and prosecutors are accustomed to receiving letters that look like job references because they know that not everybody wants to tell everyone in their lives that they are in a legal predicament.

When Should Letters Be Collected?

You should begin asking for letters as soon as possible. People will forget and it may take some time before you are able to collect them. When you receive a letter, hold onto it. Do not send it directly to the judge. Your lawyer will probably want you to also hold them until you receive them all. You can then provide all the letters at one time. This helps to keep the letters organized and limits the possibility of one slipping through the cracks or getting misplaced. Turning the letters into PDFs will be especially helpful to your attorney.

Show the Judge a More Complete Picture

The basics of character letters address how the writer knows you, how long they have known you, and what they think of you. Simple letters from a range of people, in their voice, best show the judge that you are far more than the crime before them. Through these letters, you want to show the judge that there is mitigation in this case for a reduced sentence.

If you are facing criminal charges, experienced legal counsel can help you at every stage, from before indictment through trial and even appeals.

Contact the Law Office of Diane Bass, A Professional Law Corporation for a lawyer who will aggressively defend you. Schedule a consultation about your case by calling (949) 990-4195 or submitting our online form.

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