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How do you write a character reference letter for a sentencing hearing?
January 13, 2009 1:36AM
found an example on line. Hope it helps Dear Judge Campbell: I have known Mr. Smith for 20 years through the church. Mr. Smith's lawyer has informed us that he has pled guilty to possession of an automatic weapon. I understand that this is against the law. I would ask that you please consider putting Ron on probation. He is not a criminal. He has always worked really hard throughout his life to help his friends and family. I believe that he will not violate the law again and that he has learned from this. Very truly yours, Steve Brown The letter example above is okay, but do not follow it word for word or even by form. Okay, sorry, it's not so good. Write your own letter. Speak from your heart. Those who have been convicted are going to serve time or some sort; be that on probation, house arrest, modified sentencing, jail, or prison is entirely up to the judge. Too many glowing recommendations have a tendency--as I've observed--to push judges toward harsher sentencings. I think that might be due to the question that seems obvious: if the person being recommended is such a fine citizen/friend/family member, why did he break the law? And, then the guilty party gets made an example of. Do not tell the judge "He is not a criminal." If he was found guilty by the judge or a jury of his peers, then guilt is a foregone conclusion, no matter how innocent he might in reality be. If he is convicted, he is guilty, hence he is a criminal. Do not tell the judge, "He will not violate the law again," especially if you have just told the judge he is not a criminal. Do you see the contradiction? Besides, you don't know that. Do you want to be held responsible if he does break the law again. Do be supportive. Express what you hope to accomplish, how you hope to help the person. Let the judge know that the convict has someone in his corner. One of the biggest reasons for lengthy sentences is the lack of a support system that is directly linked to higher recidivism rates. And this last part might seem like bad advice, and might be difficult for some. Avoid references to church, Christianity, spiritual change, salvation, conversion, etc. Far too many convicted people have used Christianity as a sort of emergency exit strategy. It has worked in the past, but the success of such attempts is waining. Judges and parole boards are reacting harshly to those who publicly profess Christianity or some other form of religious faith, especially if they did not demonstrate it in their lives previous to the criminal infraction. Judges give harsher sentences and parole boards more readily give parole denials. If you mention it, do so very briefly and keep it in the context of how you know the person: i.e. "We have been members of the same Bible study group for XX years," or "We have been members of the same church for XX years."Do not give the person's testimony for him. Let him do that, and if you talk to him before he goes before the judge, tell him to let his demeanor and actions give his testimony. Again, and I can't stress this enough, speak from your heart. You are not going to successfully BS a judge (well, most judges). Likely as not your letter will have little affect on the sentencing outcome, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Trying to help won't hurt. That is provided you take suggestions well.