For many types of criminal cases, the defendant’s moral character and reputation may be relevant to the case’s disposition. In such cases, letters of support or character references may be used as evidentiary support for requesting a favorable disposition, such as a lighter sentence or probation. Support letters are also used in legal proceedings for the determination of child custody and related matters in which a parent’s fitness may be in question. The type of proceeding typically determines the kind of letter that is most helpful and appropriate.
Generally speaking, however, a support letter should be positive, professional and polished. In all cases, a support letter for a hearing should be organized and formatted in much the same way as a recommendation letter for a person seeking employment.
Preparing to Write a Letter of Support for Court
Before writing a letter of support for court, it’s a good idea to speak to the party’s attorney to find out more about the issues in the case and how your letter may best assist that case. Ask which specific qualities, traits or information would be most helpful. As you prepare the first draft of your letter, think about past shared experiences that would help you demonstrate those traits in the individual.
However, it’s important to include only those traits or details about which you can write with firsthand authority. In other words, the party may be a devoted parent with excellent parenting skills, but if you don’t have any personal experience or observations to share that prove those skills, you should not include them in the letter.
The attorney should also be able to give you all the relevant information, including the case number, judge name and court mailing address.
Read More: How to Write a Letter of Support to a Sentencing Judge
Formatting the Support Letter
The letter should be formatted and styled as a piece of professional or business correspondence. It should, therefore, be typed, with the sender’s address and date of the letter printed at the top. The address of the court or tribunal hearing of the case in question should be typed below the date with left justification.
If possible, it is always preferable to address a support letter to a specific individual. Typically, in the case of a support letter for a hearing, the individual to whom the letter should be addressed is the judge who is hearing the case and conducting the proceedings. It is customary to address judges as: “The Honorable (First Name Second Name)” in the address block and in the salutation as: “Dear Judge (Last Name).”
Include a reference line that includes both the case name and case identification number. For example, in a criminal case, the case name or caption will probably be something like: “State v. Joseph Smith,” while a civil custody case may be styled “In re Smith v. Smith” or simply “Smith v. Smith.”
Organizing the Content of the Support Letter
A support letter for any type of legal hearing should be well-organized, grammatically correct and as succinct as possible. The most effective support letters focus on just a few traits or qualities, and they employ a narrative format to tell a quick story that demonstrate the most significant trait in the defendant or litigant.
Use the first paragraph to briefly introduce yourself and establish your relationship with the person for whom you are providing the letter. Describe briefly how long you have known the individual and in what capacity. Keep this paragraph short so that you can move on quickly to the main purpose of the letter: providing a detailed description of the person’s positive qualities.
The specific positive qualities the letter focuses on will vary depending on the nature of the hearing or case. If the person is a party to a custody case, emphasize qualities such as compassion, communication and parenting skills. If the letter is in support of a criminal defendant, highlight traits such as the person’s charity, humility and sense of personal responsibility.
Closing Details of the Letter of Support
Close the letter with your contact information. Include a general statement thanking the judge for their careful attention. Make sure to proofread the letter to catch any unintentional grammatical or spelling errors. Finally, sign your name. It’s also a good idea to make a copy of the letter before you seal it in an envelope.
Submitting a Letter of Support
The most efficient way to submit your letter of support to the court is to mail it yourself. Call the clerk of court for the relevant jurisdiction and ask for the proper mailing address for support letters of this nature.
Alternatively, you may deliver the letter to the party’s attorney, who can then properly submit the letter to the court. Judges may not read unsolicited mail, so if the support letter was not requested, this may be a more effective mode of delivery.
Annie Sisk is a freelance writer who lives in upstate New York. She holds a B.A. in Speech from Catawba College and a J.D. from USC. She has written extensively for publications and websites in the business, management and legal fields.