LETTERS OF SUPPORT & CHARACTER LETTERS IN A CRIMINAL CASE
When we are able to reach a resolution in a case that the client and prosecutor agree with, we turn our attention to the sentencing hearing. The sentencing hearing is our time to present information and argument to persuade the judge of our position on what the sentence should be. We have a variety of tools to accomplish that, including letters of support from our client’s friends and family.
Support letters are useful because they include information and perspectives from those who know our clients best, and help us convey that information to the judge. If you write a letter of support, your letter should include information that helps us provide a full picture of who our client is as a person everyday, not just on the date of the incident. Here are some tips for a well-written letter.
- Put the date at the top of the letter.
- Address the letter to the judge assigned to the case. For example: Dear Judge (Last Name),
- Introduce yourself.
> If you are a relative, include your full name, and how you are related to the person you are writing for. “My name is Barbara Doe, and I am John Doe’s mother.”
> If you are not related, you should include your full name, how you know the person, for how long, and a brief background about yourself. That background may include your employment or position if you work for the same company, your connection to the community, any community organizations you belong to, and so on.
- Share information that you have personally witnessed or know about the person. Some examples of topics include:
> Any qualities the person has that sets him/her apart from others at home, work, school, or in any other setting
> Your honest opinion about the person’s character. These can be opinions about whether the person is a hard-worker, caring, selfless, intelligent, respected, well liked, or a good parent/child. For example, is s/he a thoughtful person? Do you know of any kindness s/he has shown others? Does s/he have good relationships with his friends and family? Use a story to explain or illustrate that opinion.
> Any activities the person is involved in to help others, or a time that the person helped someone in need.
> A time the person helped you or impacted your life positively.
> Do you think that this experience has taught him/her any lessons? What lessons and why?
> Changes you have seen the person make to improve his/her own life.
> Things you have observed about the person that show he/she is remorseful or sorry for his/her actions.> Describe how s/he has dealt with hardships or setbacks if you can.
- Keep your letter to 1-2 pages. Typed is preferred, but if you need to handwrite a letter, be sure to write neatly so that anyone can read it.
- Thank the judge at the end for reading and considering your letter before sentencing, but avoid asking the judge to impose a specific sentence.
- Sign the letter. Be sure to write out your full name, and include your address and phone number.
- Send your letter to the attorney who represents your friend or loved one.
Often times family and friends offer their help to our clients, and a letter of support is the best way for them to that. However, there are some things that aren't usually helpful to write about. For example, don't talk about the circumstances of the crime, that is part of the lawyer's role.
With a well-written letter, we can use it to present our best argument to the judge on our client’s behalf.