How to Write a Character Letter to a Federal Judge

By Jody Hanson ; Updated June 16, 2017
Judge Holding Documents

The federal court uses character references to help judges form a picture of what the accused is like personally. The mission of a character reference is to present the person in a favorable light. Character references don’t have to come from “important” people and they may be written by family members, friends, neighbors or professionals, such as former teachers. Good character references impact on the sentence handed down by the federal court. A character reference can help sway a federal judge, so what you write may help the accused.

Brainstorm in Advance

Jot down a list of character traits to include in your letter. Think of traits such that depict the person as community minded, generous and family-oriented. Think of specific examples to support your character claims.

Starting Your Letter

Use letterhead for your character reference letter to the federal court, if possible. Otherwise write your address, followed by the date. Type your letter to the court, rather than hand write it.

Use the salutation “To The Presiding Judge” because it is a federal court. The block style letter format is best for a formal letter of this nature. Leave a space between paragraphs and start all sentences on the left-hand margin.

Building Your Credibility

State how long you have known the person, and identify in what capacity you know the accused. If, for instance, you are the family doctor, write “James Smith has been a patient at my medical clinic for eight years.”

Then, mention why you are qualified to provide a character reference. Sentences such as, “Belinda Jones has been a close friend for 11 years, ever since she moved to town" indicate your relationship with the person. Credibility is important in character references, so be clear in this regard.

Expand on Character Traits

Develop the character traits you want to address and provide concrete examples. Rather than saying, "Fred Thompson is family-oriented," give examples of how he spends every weekend with his children. Then talk about how he helps them with their homework and always attends school events. Create a portrait of the person so that the federal judge can understand what he is like.

Expand on Remorse

Talk about whether the person has expressed regret, grief or remorse. Again, give concrete examples. Federal judges want to know if people feel guilty about their crimes and, if they do, this is taken into consideration when handing down a sentence.

Other Things to Consider

Finish off your letter by commenting on whether the behavior was out of character for the person. Also mention whether there were mitigating circumstances that may have provoked the crime.

Before you send in your character reference, re-read your letter and make sure you wrote it in easy-to-understand English. Don’t use a big word if a small one will do. Avoid run-on sentences. Adopt a sincere, but business like, tone. Be honest, rather than gushy.

Further, reviewing your letter allows you to see if you forgot to mention anything in your letter, correct any mistakes or spelling errors, and make sure that the letter is the best reference you can possibly give.

Tip


Ask a friend or family member with good editing skills to review your character letter. Having another person look at your letter is a good idea, as a character reference for a federal court is a serious matter and you want to present as positive an image as possible.

About the Author

Jody Hanson began writing professionally in 1992 to help finance her second around-the-world trip. In addition to her academic books, she has written for "International Living," the "Sydney Courier" and the "Australian Woman's Forum." Hanson holds a Ph.D. in adult education from Greenwich University.