In our experience at Provinziano & Associates, presenting a good image to the Court or a prosecutor can often make a big difference in whether or not they exercise their discretion and reduce charges in a client’s favor.
In the past, through the use of legal strategies and presenting good character reference letters, we have been able to successfully get a reduction in charges for many former clients.
Below are the Provinziano Legal Team’s tips on writing a good character reference letter for a person in a criminal case:
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Rule No. 1: Don’t Say General Embellishments Such As…
Most Court character references make statements like this: “John Smith is hardworking, energetic and generous with his time and money.” We believe that these references have very little impact upon the sentence imposed by the Court or plea bargain offered by the District Attorney’s office.
Rule No. 2: Paint a Picture of the Person’s Good Qualities
You can use examples, illustrations and stories to bring to life the character of a person, for example:
“John Smith is very helpful to his neighbors. I remember driving home and seeing our elderly disabled neighbor struggling to work in his yard getting it ready to be sold. John went quiet and when I returned home he went missing for a while. About two to three hours later, I saw John with our elderly neighbor working hard in the yard, digging for weeds, moving around a wheel barrel, and mowing the grass. John spent the next day with our neighbor until his yard was all cleaned-up. This is just one example of how John is compassionate to those around him and helps those in need.”
Rule No. 3: The Ideal Format for a Character Reference Letter
- The Character Reference should be made out to Dear Assigned Deputy District Attorney or To Whom it May Concern
- The reference should be typed.
- The reference should be on official letterhead, if possible.
- The reference should indicate how long you have known the person.
- The reference should indicate that you are aware that the person has been charged with the specific offense they have been charged with.
- Ask the person whether they have been charged with a similar offense previously. We will not be able to use the reference if you state that the offense is totally out of character if our client has been convicted with similar offenses in the past.
- If the person has expressed remorse for what they have done or suffered anxiety as a result of being charged by police, then you should comment on your observations.
- If you are aware of any personal circumstances that may have contributed to the commission of the offense, you should state these, but be careful not to shift the blame onto others.
Rule No. 4: Special Considerations for Traffic Ticket Matters
- If you are aware of any difficulties that may be suffered by the person as a result of a loss of license, please state these.
- If you are the person’s employer and their loss of license will impact upon your business, please state this. If the person will lose their job as a result of losing their license, or if they have it suspended, you must clearly state this. Please do not be vague as to what may occur in the future.
Rule No. 5: What Should Not Be in a Character Reference Letter
- Do not suggest the penalty to be imposed.
- Do not be critical of the law or of the victim.
- Do not make comments like “I ask the court to look inside their heart…”
- Do not say anything that is not true.
- Do not make lengthy narratives or speeches
So please follows these simple rules, and in my experience, I have discovered that a well-drafted Court character reference can have an impact upon the sentence that is imposed by the Court or suggested by a prosecutor, but it is not a guarantee of a better outcome. This is just one piece of the puzzle, and it can be extremely helpful for a defendant to have these letters for their criminal defense attorney.