If you have been found guilty of a crime, the judge will determine your sentence. Most judges typically limit the number of character witnesses that may appear on your behalf or may not even allow them at all. However, a judge will review almost any number of character letters. A character letter is also known as a sentencing letter.
Character letters are submitted to the judge by friends, family members, employers, and others and requests a more lenient sentence. A character letter is only effective if it is written well and helps to give the judge a better understanding of who the defendant is. If you are writing a character letter, follow these tips when drafting your letter.
How Character Letters May Be Used
A good character letter can give the prosecutor or judge a better understanding of who you are and why a reduction would be appropriate. They can also help them better understand how a criminal conviction could negatively impact you. Below you will find a couple of different ways an attorney can use a character letter.
During Plea Negotiations
There may be a point when your criminal defense attorney wants to enter into plea negotiations with the prosecutor during the case. Your attorney could write a letter or make the request in person, over the phone, or during a pretrial. Having a good character letter can present a strong case for a reduction in charges.
During Sentencing Negotiations
Sentencing negotiations happen between your attorney and the prosecutor. Although the prosecutor can make sentencing recommendations, the final decision is based solely on the judge’s discretion. And while a prosecutor may offer a reduction in your charges, the judge also can refuse the plea deal.
Formatting a Character Letter
When writing a character letter, it should be in business block format, on the letterhead of the author, include a date, an inside address, an email address, and a phone number. This contact information can be listed under the author’s street address or below the signature line. The letter should also include the judge’s name and your case number.
What Should You Include In a Character Letter
When you get to writing the letter, here are some things that the author could include.
- An Introduction – Who the author is, how they know you, and how long they’ve known you.
- Background information – The author should summarize their understanding of your case and include the charges you are facing.
- Body – This section can be multiple paragraphs. This is where the author will give their opinion of your character. The more detailed they can get, the better, and the details should relate to the charges pending against you.
- Consider the law – Criminal law is designed to punish people when they do something socially unacceptable or that could put others in danger. While the character letter is used to explain how the charges against you don’t reflect your true nature, it’s important for the author to show that you are a good citizen despite the pending charges.
- Tell a story – If the author can tell a story about your positive personality traits and how you exhibited the behavior.
- Refer to other positive behaviors – If you volunteer, visit the elderly, or if there are any different ways you give back to society, make sure the author includes this as long as they have personal knowledge of it.
- Refer to your behavior since the arrest – This could be the most crucial part of the letter. If they have personal knowledge of steps you have taken to address any situations regarding your case, they should include it. For example, if you are up on DUI charges, they could attest to what steps you have taken to resolve your substance abuse problem.
- Rehabilitation – The criminal justice system’s goal is to rehabilitate defendants to ensure that they won’t re-offend. If the author believes that about your case, make sure they state it in their character letter.
Do You Have More Questions? Call Jeremy Widder Law
Keeping the letter short and to the point is essential. And before you send a character letter, you should have it reviewed by the person’s criminal defense attorney. They may have suggestions to strengthen your letter to help persuade a judge to be more lenient. They will also be able to tell you if there is anything in the letter that may hurt the defendant’s case.
At Jeremy Widder Law, we have experience in a wide range of legal practice areas. We are committed to walking with our clients from start to finish and providing each person with the attention they deserve.
If you are looking for top-notch legal services backed by years of experience, contact Jeremy Widder Law today for a free consultation.