HOW TO WRITE A CHARACTER REFERENCE FOR COURT?
In a criminal proceeding, a character reference is a letter from a person to the Court. The person provides the reference to support the defendant’s case. It is one of the best ways a criminal lawyer can tell the Court about their client’s character. A character reference can sometimes be the most crucial evidence in a defendant’s case.
When a Court sentences a person for a criminal offence in Queensland, the law says the Court must consider the person’s character. The Court can learn about a person’s character by a character reference.
The character reference doesn’t need to come from essential people in the community. This person could be your husband, wife, family member, friend or work colleague. Most importantly, the person providing the reference knows you and can speak of your good character.
THE STRUCTURE OF A CHARACTER REFERENCE AND THE ISSUES THAT SHOULD BE ADDRESSED
There are no hard and fast rules about structuring a character reference. But there are some general guidelines about what should be included.
If you have a letterhead, use it. Do it if you own your business or work for a company and can place the reference on a letterhead. A letterhead can help the Court better understand who you are and your position in the community. It also shows the Court you are employed, which is always a positive factor.
Have The Character Reference Typed
The character reference should be typed. When a character reference is typed, it avoids potential issues of the Judge or Magistrate being unable to read what you have written.
The Character Reference Should Be Addressed “To the Sentencing Magistrate” or “To the Sentencing Judge
The character reference should be appropriately addressed. It shows the Magistrate or Judge you know who will be reading it. It further demonstrates you know it is not just a general character reference.
If your matter is in the Magistrates Court, it should be addressed to “The Sentencing Magistrate”. An example for the Brisbane Magistrates Court is as follows:
The Sentencing Magistrate
Brisbane Magistrates Court
363 George Street
BRISBANE QLD 4000
If your matter is in the District or Supreme Court, your reference should be addressed to “The Sentencing Judge”. An example for the Brisbane District Court is:
The Sentencing Judge
Brisbane District Court
QEII Courts of Law Complex
415 George Street
Brisbane QLD 4000
Use a Heading
It would be best to use the name of the person you are writing about as a heading. For example, you could centre a heading “Character reference for Name of the person”.
State Who You Are
It would help if you told the Court who you are, your occupation and any qualifications you hold.
How You Came To Meet Them
You need to tell the Court your relationship with the defendant and how long you have known them. Telling the Court how long you have known the defendant helps show the level of insight you may have in the defendant’s background. If you have only known the defendant for a week, this would have far less weight than had you known them for many years.
Show You Know What Charges The Defendant Is Pleading Guilty To
For your reference to have any weight in the Court, you must show you know about the offences the defendant is pleading guilty to. The Judge or Magistrate needs to be satisfied you are providing the reference for the defendant with knowledge of the offences. If you don’t mention the crimes, the Judge or Magistrate will say the reference is useless because the person providing it doesn’t say they know about the offences.
You don’t need to list every offence if there are many. If you know the defendant is pleading guilty to drug charges, you could say something like, “I am aware the Name of Defendant is pleading guilty to drug charges”.
Find Out If The Defendant Has Been In Trouble For This Criminal Offence Before
You need to determine if the defendant has been convicted in the past of the same or a similar offence. There is no point in saying the offence is out of character for the defendant if they have previously been convicted of it or a similar crime. A reference like this will not be used.
Your Opinion Of The Defendant’s Personality
What is your opinion of the defendant’s personality? Consider the qualities of the person you believe the Judge or Magistrate should know about. Try to give as much detail as possible, backed up by examples. If you say the defendant is a kind and caring person, back it up with an example to demonstrate why you say they are kind and caring.
Any Positive Things You Can Say About Their Behaviour, Activities, etc.
You may want to mention things the defendant has done for you, your family, your business, your sporting club or your association. Questions you may ask yourself in deciding what to write are:
- Has the defendant helped you or your family in any way?
- Has the defendant been involved in any volunteer work?
- Is the defendant involved in any clubs or sporting organisations?
- Is the defendant dedicated to their family or friends?
It is essential to explain the good qualities a person has.
Include any other positive information relevant to help the defendant’s case.
Be Signed and Dated
Sign and date the character reference. Signing and dating the character reference authenticates it and shows the Court it was prepared for this case.
Include Your Contact Information
Include your contact information, such as your address and phone number. Including your phone number will allow the lawyer to contact you if any issue with your reference arises.
OTHER TIPS ON CHARACTER REFERENCES
Get The Character Reference To The Lawyer Early
It would help to get the character reference to the lawyer before the court event. This will allow the lawyer time to review the reference and ask you to make necessary amendments. It will also allow the lawyer to have the information about the defendant early on so they can use it in preparing the case.
How Many Character References Should I Get?
There is no magic number of character references a person should get. Get as many references as possible, and your lawyer will decide how many to use. It will also allow your lawyer to select which ones they want to use.
Always be honest and truthful in a character reference. If you deceive or mislead the court in a reference, this may lead to criminal consequences.
Do Not Suggest The Penalty The Magistrate or Judge Should Impose
GET PROPER LEGAL ADVICE
Get legal advice from an experienced Brisbane Criminal Lawyer. Criminal Law is a complex area of law and requires the help of a criminal lawyer. An experienced criminal lawyer will take the stress of the process away from you and help you achieve the best possible outcome. Don’t think you need to fight a criminal offence on your own. The Criminal Lawyers Brisbane Group are here to help! Our lawyers are here to answer questions and explain the process and your options.
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