lawyer character reference for court

Character Reference for court

Have you been charged by the Police and are now going to the criminal court for sentencing? You may need a good character reference. 

Whether it is for a criminal or traffic offence, it is best to prepare a number of character letters to the court during sentencing. A well prepared reference from the right people can result in the Magistrate granting a more lenient penalty.

Why do I need a character reference?

Although a criminal law character reference may not alter the outcome of a Magistrates’ Court trial, it is likely to alter the time or severity of the sentence given.

References can also be an indication that you have been honest enough to admit your offence to those in your life and have taken responsibility for your actions.

In the case of Ryan v The Queen (2001), the court held that when sentencing, the magistrate or judge must:

  1. Determine whether he or she is of otherwise good character; and
  2. If so, must take this fact into account when imposing a sentence.

Therefore, well written character references from the right people can certainly assist in achieving the best possible outcome.

Who should write the reference?

People who know you personally such as a long term friend, colleague, employer, someone you have volunteered with, a coach, a religious leader or the like.

An immediate family member should not write a reference as the Magistrate could form the view that they would write anything for you. 

If you feel that it would help, you can also write your own letter to the Court expressing your remorse, depicting your true character and describing any steps that you are making toward rehabilitation. This is called a ‘Letter of Apology’ and can also persuade the Magistrate or Judge to deal with your sentencing more leniently.

What should be in the character reference?

  • The nature of and length of your relationship with referee. 
  • Information about what you do for a living and any positive contributions you have made to the community.
  • The referee’s acknowledgement of the offence and it’s seriousness. 
  • Any examples or tellings of your good character.
  • That this offence is out of character for you and your usual dealings.
  • Expressing that they can see that you are taking responsibility for your actions. 
  • Your referee’s concerns of the impact of a conviction or other penalty on you and your family’s life. .

Your lawyer will provide further advice or assistance in relation to what a reference should contain in the context of your particular case, and even review and make suggestions in relation to references prepared by those who are close to you.

How should it be structured?

The letters should be structured like so: 

  • Typed and preferably on a letterhead.
  • Addressed to ‘Your Honour’ or ‘To the Presiding Magistrate/Judge’.
  • Signed and dated, and the original should be available to hand-up to the court on the day of sentence.
  • The referee should use their own words and communicate their views without exaggeration or insincerity.

Is there anything specific that should be referred to in the reference? 

If there is a chance that a conviction or a loss of your driver license will result in a dismissal at work, you may wish to obtain a reference letter from your employer expressing this. 

Is there anything that should not be included? 

The referee should not tell the magistrate what to do or what to consider. They should also not embellish or over exaggerate. 

Will a character reference actually make a difference? 

Courts are required to consider character references that contain matters relevant to the sentencing process. Section 21A(3) of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 outlines what are known as ‘mitigating factors’, which is information that can lead to a more lenient penalty being imposed.

These include:

  • Having no previous criminal record, or no significant record,
  • Being a person of good character,
  • Being unlikely to re-offend,
  • Having good prospects of rehabilitation, and
  • Pleading guilty to the offence.

Provided that information about such matters is contained in the reference letters, the court is required to consider them.

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