Tips For an Effective Character Letter To a Judge

Tips For an Effective Character Letter To a Judge

If you are found guilty through your plea or after a trial, a judge will then determine your sentence. When deciding an appropriate sentence, the judge will consider the facts of the case, as well as any mitigating or aggravating factors

During the sentencing phase, the judge can hear testimony and read character letters from people familiar with the defendant. This letter could make a big impact on the sentence the defendant receives.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can provide effective tips on how to write a character letter for court.

What Is a Character Letter?

What Is a Character Letter?

A character letter is a letter written by friends, relatives, coworkers, and others who know the defendant in a criminal case. They are presented to the judge during the sentencing phase, along with the testimony of any live witnesses. Typically, a judge will only hear from a certain number of character witnesses during this phase but will accept letters from others to review when rendering a decision. 

A character letter can provide details about the defendant, their life, and their character. The letter can help give the judge a better picture of the defendant and differentiate them from others in the criminal justice system. The goal of character letters is to minimize the sentence the defendant receives. 

Pennsylvania judges use sentencing guidelines when determining a sentence in a criminal case. These guidelines recommend a minimum and maximum sentence based on the specific factors of the case. A well-written character letter could potentially convince a judge to use the lower recommended sentence or even to deviate entirely from the guidelines. 

What To Include in a Character Letter

Here is some information you may wish to include in your character letter:

  • Your name and contact information in case the court wants to reach you and needs to verify the information 
  • How you know the defendant, and for how long
  • An explanation of why you are writing the letter 
  • Details about the defendant’s character and life
  • Specific examples of how the defendant has helped you or someone else 
  • The impact the defendant’s incarceration would have on others
  • A respectful request asking the court for a minimum sentence or alternative sentencing

The letter should generally be typed on standard-size paper. 

Tips For Preparing an Effective Character Letter

Here are some tips to help you prepare an effective character letter:

Make It Unique

Criminal judges may hear many cases on any given day, week, or month. Therefore, they may become desensitized to seeing defendants as individuals. Case details may start to blend together. If the defendant pled guilty, the judge may have had little interaction with them or their case. 

A good character letter will show the defendant as an individual and represent them as more than just another case. Avoid using a standard character letter you find on the internet. Form letters will not be persuasive to hardened criminal judges. 

Provide Specific Details 

A compelling character letter will provide specific details about the defendant. This may include information about the defendant’s upbringing and the struggles they have faced. 

For example, in a domestic violence case, it may be helpful to share information about how the defendant grew up in a broken home or never had a same-sex role model to lead them. In a theft case, it may help to describe the financial difficulties your loved one has suffered due to a job loss or illness. 

Character letters should also detail how the defendant is part of the community. Are they married or have children who rely on them for support? Do they have an important job? Are they active in their community? Describe your loved one in detail and provide examples to the court. 

The information you provide in character letters should not try to excuse the defendant’s actions. What they did was a crime. However, by providing details about the defendant and their life, you may be able to paint a better picture of them as a complete person so the judge will consider these details when determining an appropriate sentence. 

Don’t Undermine the Case or Criminal Justice System

At this phase in the case, it is presumed that your loved one is guilty of the crime they were charged with. Now is not the time to say that the jury got it wrong, the police are corrupt, or your loved one was railroaded. Such statements can be considered inflammatory and make the judge ignore your letter entirely. 

Make a Request

The character letter should end with a specific request about sentencing. This request should be reasonable. 

If your loved one is convicted of murder, asking for probation is probably not reasonable. However, you could ask for the minimum sentence. Or, if your loved one is convicted of a drug crime, you could explain how rehabilitation would be better. 

An Experienced West Chester Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You Draft a Compelling Character Letter

If you would like assistance crafting a compelling character letter for your loved one, reach out to an experienced criminal defense lawyer for help.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Law Firm in West Chester, PA

If you are facing criminal charges and need legal help, contact the West Chester, PA criminal defense lawyers at DiCindio Law, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation.

DiCindio Law, LLC
29 S Walnut St
West Chester, PA 19382
(610) 430-3535

***This blog article is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice. By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. Please contact DiCindio Law, LLC for a consultation and to discuss what law is relevant to your case. ***