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How To Ask For Character Reference Letters

The importance of character-reference letters cannot be overstated for your sentencing hearing. These letters provide valuable insights into your character, offering the judge a comprehensive understanding of who you are as an individual beyond the criminal charges you face. In this article, we will discuss strategies for obtaining meaningful character-reference letters that can significantly impact your sentencing outcome.

Three Rules When Asking For Letters:

  1. Just emailing or texting someone in your network to write a letter will backfire.

    1. This is the most important thing in your life - your liberty. If you want people to work for you (e.g. write a letter on your behalf), you need to put in some effort.

  2. Not giving a potential writer details about the crime and your role will backfire.

    1. If your mom, friend or neighbor doesn't know the situation in detail, how can they write a effective letter for you?

  3. Failing to show your remorse and your rehabilitation will backfire.

    1. Once you have been charged with a crime, you need to make meaningful steps to show how you have changed or grown - therapy, volunteer work, etc. Your network needs to believe you are worthy of forgiveness before a judge can.

Value of Face-to-Face Meetings:

Prior to requesting a character-reference letter, you need to arrange a face-to-face meetings - either over coffee, lunch or a walk. During this meeting you are not asking the person to write you a letter, you are simply explaining your story.

If you are able to afford our services, you are likely a corporate executive, financial professional, doctor, or lawyer. You will likely be the first in your network to be indicted and your crime will be worthy of a DOJ press release so the allegations against you will be public. This meeting is merely to (re)connect with this person on a deeper level.

Only a face-to-face meeting, can combat the negative press and stigma of the allegations. Use this experience to become closer to people. This will not only help for character reference letters but it will help build meaningful relationships that will endure for the rest of your life.

During this meeting you need to cover a few key discussion items:

  1. Influences Leading to the Crime: You need to be candid about the factors and situation that led to the allegations or crime.

  2. Articulate the Offense: If you cannot intelligently explain what the crime is and how the government is charging you, your perspective on the crime and how it affected others.

  3. Lessons Learned: Describe what you have learned from the experience.

  4. Restorative Actions: Detail the steps you have taken to make amends for your actions.

  5. Future Commitment to the Law: Share your commitment to living as a productive member of society moving forward.

Whether you want to admit it or not, you did something wrong to get here. Maybe you kept the wrong company. Maybe your inaction perpetuated a crime. Maybe you didn't have the moral constitution to simply walk away. Whatever the case, you need to own it. No one wants to hear solely how the system screwed you. You need to take accountability for the situation and explain how you are going to be a better person because of what you are going through.

By providing this background and context, prospective writers will be better equipped to write a compelling character-reference letter that accurately represents your character and rehabilitation efforts.

The Title's Don't Matter. The Stories Do.

Many people make the mistake of contacting individuals they considered influential but don't have a strong relationship with - a family friend who is CEO of a large company, asking a congressman, etc. The problem is those people do not know you well. Acquaintances and distant relatives are incapable of providing authentic and detailed letters that are effective with a judge.

How to Request Character Reference Letters:

After you have that initial face to face meeting:

1. Stay in Touch: Make sure to stay in touch with those in your network - send occasional texts to check in - happy birthday, happy 4th of July, Happy Thanksgiving, etc.

2. Request the Letter: After you plead guilty or are convicted, is when you make the ask. Schedule a call with each person and tell them 1) judges take into account character reference letters when considering a sentence 2) you would be honored and forever in their debt if they would write a character-reference letter on your behalf.

3. Choose fully managed or DIY process: We created CCRL because we found it challenging getting our network to write effective letters. It's a large burden to place on someone. If you want to make the process easy for your network and boil it down to a 1 hour Zoom interview vs 3-5 hours of writing, drop us a line!

5. The DIY process: Writing a good character-reference letter can be challenging for people. It takes a lot of time to think, write and edit. Some people may struggle with expressing themselves or understanding the letter's purpose. It is your responsibility to assist the author in this process. We will cover the DIY process in a future article.

In summary, securing meaningful character-reference letters requires careful planning and open communication with potential writers. These letters can play a pivotal role in influencing your sentencing outcome, so it's essential to approach this process strategically and honestly. Contact us to streamline the process or use our guides to assist those who are willing to write character-reference letters on your behalf. Your proactive efforts can make a significant difference in the quality of the letters and ultimately how a judge will sentence you.


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