You do not have to be a defense attorney to make a difference in the outcome of a friend’s trial. Most judges take into account character letters written by friends and family members when deciding the defendant's sentence. Though your letter will likely not get the person exculpated from the crime, it has the potential to make the judge rule closer to the minimum sentence range.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
You don't need to use special language to write a character reference letter. Just express the defendant's positive personality traits and the ways in which the crime he committed deviates from his personality.
Use Business Letter Format
Lay the letter out using usual business letter format. Put your name and address at the top and the court at the top left of the letter. Add a date. Address the judge by his or her full name and profession: “To the Honorable Judge Warren.” List your full name and contact information in the upper-left corner of the document to ensure the court can contact you and verify any of the enclosed information.
Then, begin the letter by stating your relationship with the defendant. Disclose how long you have known him or her and in what capacity. For instance, “I have known Brian Taylor for 12 years as both friends and coworkers. I had the privilege of working with him at the tech consulting firm, Widget Inc.”
Emphasize the Positive
If positive, emphasize your friend's reputation in the community. Highlight any volunteer activities, contributions to charitable organizations, leadership roles and other positive acts of kindness. Explain how your friend's absence would impact the neighborhood and how many people rely on his or her presence for the continuation of certain activities. For example, “Brian has been an active member in the Parent Teacher Association. He organizes the school’s fundraisers, hosts after school tutoring activities and teaches recycling programs.”
Express the defendant's positive personality traits and provide short, personal anecdotes related to his or her character. For instance, mention if he serves as a second father to your kids or how he serves as the backbone of the family by organizing holidays. List the ways his close friends and family are impacted by his absence.
Provide Explanation for the Crime
Mention the ways in which the crime he or she committed deviates from his or her personality. If, for example, a bank was robbed, explain how you have always trusted the defendant and would continue to do so despite the colossal error. If the crime is drug-related, emphasize how you would be willing to take all measures necessary to get the defendant into a treatment center.
Conclusion of Your Letter
Write your willingness to appear before the court to offer support or provide a verbal statement. Review the letter to make sure that it is factual and straightforward. Check for spelling and grammar mistakes. It's a good idea to contact your friend's attorney before you submit the letter. Read its contents to the attorney, and ask for any pointers, edits and additional insight.
Things to Consider
Do not say anything disparaging about the law enforcement agents or prosecutor, and do not express any of your personal thoughts about the validity of the justice system. With the exception of expressing regret and remorse for your friend’s actions, keep the letter in a positive light. The court will not respond favorably if you are throwing accusations around, and you may hinder rather than help your fiend's case.
- The Law Dictionary: Writing a Letter to the Judge Before Sentencing Law Dictionary: Writing a Letter to the Judge Before Sentencing
- The Law Dictionary: Best Way to Write a Good Character Witness Statement Law Dictionary: Best Way to Write a Good Character Witness Statement
- Purdue University: Writing the Basic Business Letter
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