A good character reference for court generally follows a clear structure.
Use the proper address
The reference should be addressed correctly. For a local court, it would be to ‘the presiding magistrate’ and for the district court ‘the presiding judge’.
Instead of ‘dear sir or dear madam’, start with the reference with ‘Your Honour’.
Include all the facts in your character reference for court
Make sure the author knows what the offence is and refers to it in their opening sentence.
Example: I am writing this character reference for John Smith who has been charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.
Who is the author and how do they know the offender?
After referring to the offence, the writer should make mention of who they are and how they come to know the offender. References by non-family members are more persuasive than those provided by your mother, father, husband, wife or sibling.
Set the offender apart
It is no use to simply write something like ‘the offender is generally of good character.’ The judge or magistrate will want to hear something about the person that sets them apart from others. If you can give examples to bring the person to life, it can help enormously.
Example: ‘During the heatwave we had in January this year I saw John visit the homes of some of his elderly neighbours to water their garden. He is also seen to drive Josie, a grandmother of 15, to the local supermarket to do her shopping since she does not have a driver’s license.’
The tone of the reference should not be argumentative, nor should the author suggest a penalty. It pays to accept the facts as the offender pleads to.
Formatting and finalising a character reference for court
Make sure the reference is typed. Handwritten references can be difficult to read.
The author should include their contact details and sign the document, leaving no doubt that they are the author.
A great character reference can go a long way to assist in persuading the judge or magistrate to give a lesser penalty, particularly if there is strong evidence that the offender is able to be rehabilitated and not appear before the court again.
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