How to Write an Early Release Letter to a Judge

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When judges make decisions regarding sentencing and early release from jail, they consider many factors. Alongside a person's record and the nature of the original charges, judges also read early release letters. In order to influence a judge's decision on early release, it's important to write the letter clearly and follow certain guidelines.

Reasons for Early Release

Before a person considers how to write a release letter, it's important to ask why he feels the need to write such a letter. Fully understanding the circumstances of the case, the possible outcomes and the reasons a person deserves release can help the writer craft a convincing letter.

First, consider whether the letter is asking for early release from probation or from incarceration. People may earn early release from probation if they meet all of the requirements sooner than expected. Judges may grant early release from prison or jail for circumstances such as:

  • Compassionate release for someone with a terminal illness.
  • Other serious health concerns.
  • Good behavior while incarcerated. 
  • Extreme suffering of family members due to the person's incarceration.

Typically, early release letters are written by others on behalf of the person who is incarcerated. However, if victims or their families hear that a judge is considering early release, they can write letters asking the judge not to proceed with the release.

Read More: How to Write a Letter for the Early Release From Probation

Consider All Possible Recipients

Although judges often consider early release decisions, they are not involved in all such cases. If someone is petitioning to be released on parole, the letters on their behalf should generally go to the parole board, not to the judge. Letter writers should be sure to address their pleas to the correct decision-maker.

How to Start a Letter to a Judge

First, address the envelope to the judge using this format:

  • Honorable Judge [First Name] [Last Name]
  • Judge of [Name of the Court]
  • Address of the court

The top of the first page should identify the letter writer, give the date, address the judge again and have a subject line. The writer should start with this information:

  • First and last name of writer.
  • Street address.
  • City, state and ZIP code.
  • Telephone number or email address.
  • Date of writing the letter.

The writer should then repeat the information on the envelope. Finally, the body of the letter should include a brief summary of what the writer is asking of the judge. Petitioners may want to format the subject line as:

Re: Early Release of [First Name] [Last Name], Case No. [Number]

While this formatting may seem excessive to some people, it is important to many judges. It helps them connect the letter to the correct case and to keep orderly files. It also shows how seriously the letter writer takes the matter.

Finally, start the letter with the correct salutation. For example, if the judge is the Chief Justice of the court, it's important to address her with the words "Chief Justice."

What to Include in the Letter

Once the introduction is formatted, it's time to consider how to write a release letter. In general, anyone writing a letter to a judge should try to keep the contents concise, without omitting important details. Judges are often short on time and don't want to read lengthy letters filled with fluff.

The letter should clearly state why the writer believes the defendant should or should not receive early release. For example, if the incarcerated person is asking for compassionate release, the letter should explain the person's prognosis.

Anyone who writes an early release letter to a judge should be sure to use a professional tone. Finally, writers should carefully proofread the letter before printing and sending it. Reading the letter aloud can help the person catch mistakes that even spellcheck can miss.

Warnings

  • The laws regarding early release vary among jurisdictions. Before sending an early release letter, the writer should ensure that early release is within the power of the judge to grant.