Why do I need a character letter?
There are two instances a character letter can be useful for your attorney. The first is during plea negotiations. The letters would be used to persuade the prosecuting attorney lesser charges would be appropriate. For example, the DA might be persuaded to accept a wet reckless instead of driving under the influence if you were able to demonstrate it was out of character or you were attending a 12 step or treatment program.
The other time your lawyer would use a character letter is during sentencing to demonstrate to the judge why a lesser sentence would be deserved. Perhaps the leader of your church and the PTA at your child’s school are able to provide details of how you volunteer to help the community. The judge can consider this information and the sentence can be reduced by days, months, or even years.
Regardless of which situation your attorney is using the character letter for, there are some essential elements to consider for an effective letter.
Who should write a letter?
Anyone who can demonstrate a positive, humanistic view of you. Some suggestions are: parents, spouse, friends, employers, teachers, coaches, mental health counselors, addiction counselors, religious leaders. Choose people who have first hand experience of your positive traits and actions. For instance, an employer could write about your reliability and work ethic. A religious leader might explain your volunteer work during their community outreach programs. A friend may tell the story of you offering your couch when he needed a place to stay.
The author should explain who they are, how they know you, and for how long. The longer the relationship, the more credible the author’s opinion is.
The writer should acknowledge the charges and explain why they are out of character, or why, despite them, you are a good person. Give specific details and provide information the judge or DA wouldn’t know.
Keep the letter succinct and to the point. If the writer is explaining how you’ve been faithfully attending AA meetings, then they should not start describing your work history. They should, in most instances, be able to make their point in one page or less.
The author should only write about what they have first hand knowledge of and always be completely honest. If the author inadvertently contradicts someone else or other information it greatly affects their credibility, which, in turn, reduces yours.
Be sure to address the letter directly to whom it is going to. If you don’t know the judge or district attorney’s name be sure to ask your attorney. Don’t use to whom it may concern, or simply judge or DA. Additionally, be sure to give the letters to your lawyer. Never send them directly to the judge or prosecutor!
Generally it is the content that is important, however, it is a good idea to proof read the letter and put it through a spell checker. If you have any questions about your character letters be sure to ask your lawyer or call attorney Jeff Wood if you aren’t yet represented.