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Three Strategic Rules For Character Reference Letters


As we discussed previously, character reference letters can be a powerful tool to use at your sentencing. However, in order to submit letters that help your cause and increase your chance for a downward variance, you need to plan in advance and execute strategically. You need to create a plan for soliciting the right number of character reference letters from the right people.


Top Three Strategies Before Requesting Letters:

  1. Asking everyone in your network to write a character reference letter will backfire.

    1. Judges don't have the patience to wade through a deluge of letters, especially if they come from individuals with a tenuous connection to you.

  2. Sending out a template letter for your network to copy and submit will backfire.

    1. Judges can tell if the letters appear generic or similar.

  3. Writers downplaying the severity of your offense in the letter will backfire.

    1. Judges either are, or believe they are, well-versed in assessing sincerity and will penalize you if they think they are being manipulated.


Well written and genuine letters can work wonders for you. In the eyes of the judge, the more they know about you, the better. The letters need to tell a story and include four critical components:

  1. How you empathize with the victims.

  2. What lessons you have learned from your criminal actions?

  3. What concrete steps you have taken to make amends?

  4. The level remorse you exhibit.


If your mother, brother or best friend can't attest to the four components above, the judge will see you as unrepentant and not worthy of leniency. Regardless of whether you are innocent or not, you are in this position and you need to manage accordingly to receive the best outcome.


Before asking your network to write letters, you need to contemplate:

  1. How the nature of your offense will be evaluated by the judge.

  2. Devise a strategy that counters the prosecutor's narrative and presents an alternative perspective on your character.

  3. Compile a list of individuals in your network capable of crafting impactful character-reference letters with compelling stories that demonstrate your worthiness of rehabilitation and leniency.


You need to examine the nature of your offense itself. Different crimes possess different characteristics:

  1. Offenses involving fraud, deceit, or the abuse of trust.

  2. Offenses related to drug-related activities.

  3. Offenses involving violence.

  4. Offenses with a sexual misconduct component

  5. Offenses centered around theft.


Before sentencing, the judge will review your case. Based on your crime, you must consider how the nature of the accusation will shape the judge's perception of you. So it's essential to ponder how the judge might view your character in light of these accusations. You must align your character-reference campaign with an overall mitigation strategy that addresses the perception linked to your particular crime:

  1. For crimes involving abuse of trust or deceit, focus on character-reference letters that illustrate this was abhorrent behavior.

  2. In drug-related offenses, consider letters that shed light on your background or your commitment to addiction treatment.

  3. For crimes of violence, aim for letters that illuminate your experiences with trauma and family influences.

  4. In cases of sexual misconduct, seek letters from mental health professionals who can provide medical evaluation of trauma and family influences.


The overarching goal of character reference letters is to challenge any judicial bias resulting from the nature of the offense and the narrative that the prosecution provides. Letters should originate from individuals who can help the judge perceive you beyond your role as a criminal defendant.


Receiving character reference letters tailored to the specific type of crime is crucial. In order to do that, you need to have honest conversations with potential letter writers - both in terms of the actions and conduct that brought you here. As well as, what you have done since the charge to demonstrate you are trying to turn your life around. When you open up to loved ones and honestly discuss your actions and efforts to rectify your wrongs, it can instill confidence in the judge regarding your remorse.


In summary, you should thoughtfully consider the individuals best suited to write character-reference letters for you. Tailor your choices to the nature of your crime and ensure that the letters come from individuals who know you well and can provide a compelling personal story that leaves a lasting impression on the judge.




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