When someone is facing sentencing before the criminal court, a character reference may be helpful in swaying the magistrate to impose a lighter sentence.  While there is some debate about whether or not a character reference will make a substantial difference in a magistrate’s sentencing decisions, it is universally recognized that a poorly written character reference will not be helpful to the offender’s cause.

Tips for Writing an Effective Character Reference


These tips can help you to determine how best to structure your character reference and what you should (and should not) include:

  • Address your character reference to the magistrate of the local court. Do not simply address the reference as “to whom it may concern,” as you want to ensure the court knows the character reference was written specifically for the sentencing phase of the criminal case.
  • Provide details about your relationship to the person you are writing the character reference for. You can include specifics about how long you have known the individual and how you are associated. Your relationship matters, as an employer may be the best person to attest to a stable employment history while others such as religious counselors or community leaders may be a better fit for addressing the offender’s role in the community.
  • Make clear you are aware of the circumstances of the offense. You want the court to know you have knowledge of the crime that occurred and are writing the reference in response to the offender’s sentencing. It can be helpful to speak with the person you are writing the character reference for about his feelings regarding the crime if you plan to comment on the offender’s remorse or regret.
  • Provide specific stories and details used to illustrate the points you are making. Character reference letters all say good things about the offenders they are written about. However, vague platitudes are unlikely to change a magistrate’s mind or to make any significant impact on an offender’s sentence. If you are making specific points about the offender’s character, like his generous and honest nature, illustrate these points with real stories showing how you have seen the offender in action doing positive things.
  • Detail difficulties you are aware the offender will face if he is given a specific sentence. For example, if you are an employer and will have to terminate the defendant if his license to drive is taken away, provide specific details about this undesirable outcome.
  • Do not suggest a penalty to be imposed. It is the magistrate’s job to impose an appropriate sentence. Your character reference is intended only to provide the guidance and information the magistrate needs about the offender to do his or her job more effectively.
  • Do not disparage the victim of criticize the law. You want your character reference to come across as positive, not as making excuses or blaming others for the offender’s situation.
  • Do not make false statements. It is a criminal offense to mislead the court.

By following these tips, you can write a strong character reference that may make a positive impact in helping an offender to receive a lesser sentence.  Owen Hodge Lawyers knows the criminal laws and sentencing guidelines used by local courts and can provide advice and assistance in helping with the drafting of a character reference.  Give our criminal lawyers a call today on 1800 770 780 or contact us via ohl@owenhodge.com.au to learn more about how we can help you with your involvement in the criminal justice system.