How to Write a Character Reference

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

If you’re thinking of asking a family member or someone else that you know to write a letter of reference about your character, make sure they know what to include. Here are some tips for how to write a character reference letter for court that will impress the magistrate or judge. You can always contact one of our experts here at Owen Hodge Lawyers for legal advice if you’re unsure – we’re the law firm Sydney residents trust.

If you’re looking for a letter sample character reference letter for court sentencing, view the image below:

sample character reference letter for court sentencing

How To Write a Character Reference Letter for Court – 8 Tips

These tips can help you to determine how to write a character reference letter for court and what you should (and should not) include.

1. Address the letter correctly

  • Address your character reference to “The Presiding Magistrate” of the local magistrates 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. For a District or Supreme Court, address it to “The Presiding Judge.” how to write a character reference letter for court tip 1 - don't just write "dear sir" like this guy!

2. Include details of your relationship

  • Provide details about your relationship with the person for whom you are writing the character reference. 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.

3. Include details of the committed offence

  • Make clear you are aware of the circumstances of the offence. 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 offender about his/her feelings regarding the crime, especially if you plan to comment on their remorse or regret.

4. Refer to concrete examples

  • Provide specific stories and details 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/her generous and honest nature, illustrate these points with real stories showing how you have seen the offender in action doing positive things.

5. List negative outcomes of a specific sentence

  • Detail difficulties you are aware the offender will face if he/she is given a specific sentence. For example, if you are an employer and will have to terminate the defendant if his/her license to drive is taken away, provide specific details about this undesirable outcome – e.g. the offender will lose their job and be unable to provide for their children.

6. Don’t suggest any penalties

  • 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 person’s life to do his or her job more effectively.

7. Stay positive

  • Do not disparage the victim or criticise the law. You want your character reference to come across as positive, not as making excuses or blaming others for the offender’s situation.

8. Always state the truth

  • 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 provides a range of personal and business legal support. We can provide advice and assistance in helping with the drafting of a character reference letter for court. Give us a call today on 1800 770 780 or contact us via [email protected] to learn more about how we can help you.

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