A character reference letter should be prepared for your case for the Judge to read only after you plead guilty, or a finding of guilt is made against you, for an offence.
A powerful good character reference letter from the right people, with the right information, can significantly improve your court result to avoid a criminal record, and in other cases, avoid prison.
Each letter should be carefully reviewed by your lawyer to ensure its done properly, and to make sure it doesn’t say things it shouldn’t.
See the below important tips on how to best prepare a character reference letter for your case.
Who Should I Get Character Reference Letters From?
Character reference letters can come from a family, friends, charity, employer or work colleague, and a letter of apology from you.
As part of this process, the person you should get a letter from will depend on your case and the kind of information you want the Magistrate or Judge to know. Its critical to ensure it comes from the right person for the right purpose, which is something your lawyer will be able to guide you on.
For example, if a criminal conviction on your record will or may result in losing your job, a letter from your employer should be obtained expressing this under the letter head with the signature and date. This can be a difficult task, in which case, you may be able to use your contract of employment or other official document expressing this.
In other cases, the loss of your licence may result in the loss of your job due to the nature of your work requiring you to travel. Here it’s ideal to obtain a letter from your employer expressing this. If this is not ideal, then you may be able to obtain your employment contract or other official document expressing this.
If the loss of your licence will significantly inconvenience your family, meaning, your partner or other dependant person will be effected. A letter should come directly from that person expressing this.
If you have done voluntary unpaid charity work at, for example, a church or charity organisation, a letter or document confirming this should be obtained detailing when, how long for, and what you did expressing the positive contribution you have had on the community.
Last but not least, a letter of apology can come from you expressing your financial and other personal circumstances and commitments which depend on your licence and conviction free record to maintain your job. Most importantly, it should also express your remorse and contrition.
What Should I Say In A Character Reference Letter?
It’s important that each letter is in the words of the person doing it, as it doesn’t have to be formal.
Generally, the referee in a character reference letters should express:
- Your good character, which includes the good things you have done. Give an example of a good deed you are aware that he/she has done.
- How long, and the circumstances the referee has known you.
- The referees profession, and how long he/she has been in that role for.
- knowledge of your offence and the seriousness of it.
- The referee can express your expressions of remorse, insight and shame after revealing the offence to the referee. i.e. The fact that you have accepted responsibility for your actions.
- The referee can express his/her expressions of shock, and opinion that your offending conduct is uncharacteristic behaviour.
- The referees concern of the potential or actual impact of a criminal record or loss of licence on your current job and career. Especially if the referee is your employer. You should give details of why a licence is essential, and/or why a conviction free record is required for the role i.e. Criminal record background checks are conducted in the role. If the role will be lost as a result of a conviction and loss of licence, then it should clearly express this.
- The referees concern of the impact of a criminal record or loss of licence on your personal and family commitments at home, and the effects of it on others that depend on you.
- It is important to express the above concerns, however, do not tell the Magistrate what to do or how to deal with your case.
What Should A Character Reference Letter Look Like?
A good character reference letter should be done in the correct format. It should be signed and dated by the author of it, and it should be addressed to “The Presiding Magistrate of the Local Court”. If it’s from a company or employer, it should have their letterhead on the top. Finally, its ideal to have the signed and dated original handed to the Magistrate or Judge on the day in court.
How Many Character Reference Letters Should I Get?
Judges and Magistrates in Court are very busy people who often do a large number of cases each day in court. It’s important to only hand up a limited number of between 2 – 4 good character reference letters. There is no hard and fast rule, as long as each letter contains important and relevant information in it.
Sometimes you may need to hand up more depending on your case, and the purpose of each letter. An experienced criminal and traffic lawyer will be able to guide you in this.
Does The Referee Need To Attend Court?
Short answer to this is, generally, no. The referee is normally not required to attend court if giving a good character reference letter for the Magistrate to read in the case.
Sometimes, if the case is in the District Court in front of a Judge, it is better for the referee to attend court to give evidence under oath if what he/she has to say is very important. This can also be avoided by, instead, having your lawyer draft and execute an affidavit to hand up to the Judge.
Once a letter is handed up to the Magistrate, or Judge, it cannot be taken back for changes.
As each case is different, depending on your case, your lawyer will be able to properly guide you.
Good Character Reference Sample for Court
Letterhead if possible e.g. Acme Pty Ltd
To: The Presiding Magistrate
Local Court at Sydney Downing Centre
GENERAL TOPICS TO BE COVERED
- The writer knows about the charge(s) and:
– that the person has been found guilty or pleaded guilty. There is no point in saying that the person is innocent.
- How long the writer has known the person in trouble
- How the writer got to know the person in trouble
- What the writer thinks of that person
- Anything specific about the person in trouble
- Don’t tell the Magistrate his/her job (e.g. “John Smith should be given a bond and not sent to gaol)
- Not the sort of person who would commit this sort of offence
- Drink driving offences/licence appeals: effect on the person and others such as family if disqualified from driving
- A statement that the writer is prepared to attend court to give evidence about the person in trouble’s character if required to do so. The writer’s postal address should be included for service of subpoena.
Basic rules about character references:
- Character references should, whenever possible, be typed on letterhead.
- They should be signed and dated, and originals should be brought to court.
- They should be addressed to either: (a) ‘To the Presiding Magistrate’, or to (c) ‘Your Honour’.
- They do not have to be ‘formal’; they should be the words of the person who gives the reference (who is called your ‘referee’).
What your ‘referee’ should say about themselves:
Your referee should say something about:
- what he or she does for a living, eg “I have worked in XYZ Organisation as a manager for ‘x’ years”
- any positions or titles held, eg business or employment positions, church, military, positions in community organisations etc.
- any positive contributions he or she has made to the community, eg involvement in charity work. That information should somehow be slipped in, without sounding over-confident or arrogant.
What your referee should say about you:
Your referee should say:
- how long and in what circumstances he or she has known you, eg “I have known John for 3 years through working together at XYZ Organisation” or “John has been my close friend for 5 years”.
- how often you meet or see each other, eg “I see John every weekday during work” or “I see John almost fortnight when we meet to socialise”.
- something your personality and behaviour, eg “I have always known John to be a decent, honest and caring person” or “John is a very hard worker and has always been punctual and efficient at work” etc. Examples can be given.
What your referee should say about the offence, your attitude and the possible impact:
- Your referee MUST make it clear that he or she is aware of the nature and seriousness of the charge/s, eg “I am aware that John has pleaded guilty to “x” which is a very serious offence”. The referee should also make reference to any previous offence/s, eg “I am aware that in 2010, John also pleaded guilty to “x”.
- Your referee should say that the current offence is ‘out of character’, eg “I was extremely surprised when John told me about what he did. It is certainly not consistent with my experiences of him”.
- Your referee can refer to any remorse expressed by you and say that you have taken responsibility, eg “I have spoken with John at length about the incident. He takes full responsibility for what he did and has expressed deep shame and remorse. He understands that his actions are acceptable. I believe it is highly unlikely that he would engage in such conduct in the future”.
- Your referee should refer to any concerns about a criminal conviction or loss of licence, without telling the Magistrate or Judge what to do, eg:
- “John has told me he is very worried about getting a criminal conviction as this would prevent him from obtaining a job as ‘x’ “; or
- “John is concerned that he will lose his job as an ‘x worker’ if he receives a criminal conviction, as his job is subject to criminal record checks and he is required to be conviction-free”; or
- “A loss of licence would prevent John from fulfilling his work duties as an “x” as he is required to travel between various locations within the Sydney area on a daily basis. This will impact on his ability to pay his bills and take care of his family”.
Finally, this is a guide-only and the contents of your reference must be accurate and true as they will be handed up to the court.
Please also your own style and your own words.