How to Write Character References for Court + Template

A well-written character reference can be instrumental, offering the court a more profound understanding of the individual's moral fibre and personality. At Faraj Defence Lawyers, we leverage our expertise and experience to assist you or your loved ones in creating a persuasive character reference that aims to positively influence the court's decision.

This guide will delve into the essence of a character reference and provide the critical dos and don'ts of crafting a character reference that resonates with the court. You can expect to learn the following:

WHAT IS A CHARACTER REFERENCE FOR THE COURT?

A character reference is a written statement typically provided by someone who knows the defendant well, aiming to shed light on their personality and behaviour outside the context of the legal issue at hand. It serves as a tool in court to offer the judge a more comprehensive view of the defendant's character, particularly highlighting their positive attributes and the impact of potential sentencing. 

This reference is used to inform the court about the individual's moral conduct, community ties, and personal qualities, potentially influencing the court's decision regarding sentencing or other legal considerations. 

Section 21A of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act (1999), (3f) lists the mitigating factors courts must take into consideration whilst sentencing, this includes, “the offender was of good character”. By having evidence in writing that you are genuinely of good character, this can influence the Judge or Magistrate to provide a more lenient sentence, aiding in your case.

WHO CAN WRITE A COURT CHARACTER REFERENCE?

When it comes to writing a character reference, the credibility and relationship of the author to the defendant play a significant role. Ideally, the person penning the reference should have a reputable standing in the community and a close, personal, or professional connection with the defendant. 

This allows them to provide genuine insights into the character and morals of the individual facing the court. Here's a list of individuals commonly considered suitable for writing a character reference: 

  • Family Friend

  • Community Member of Volunteer

  • Employer

  • Professional Colleague

Family Friend:

When a family friend writes a character reference for court, it's essential that they demonstrate a close and personal understanding of the accused. This type of reference should convey a deep familiarity with the person, reflecting insights into their character and conduct within both home and community settings. 

The writer should specify how long they've known the accused, providing real life examples of their positive behaviour and contributions outside of the home. These examples can highlight the defendant's integrity, kindness, and positive interactions within the community, offering the court a view of the accused's character in a broader social context.

Community Member or Volunteer:

Character references from community members or volunteers can be particularly impactful, especially if the accused is shown to be actively engaged in community work. When someone involved in these sectors writes a reference, it adds credibility to the depiction of the accused as a contributing and valuable member of society.

The reference should detail the nature of the community involvement, emphasising any significant contributions, leadership roles, or positive impacts the accused has had. Examples could include volunteering at local shelters, participating in community clean-up efforts, or being an active member of local sports teams or clubs.

Employer:

An employer's character reference holds significant weight in court, particularly in cases where employment status or the potential impact of a licence disqualification is a consideration. Employers should provide detailed information about the accused's role within the organisation, their work ethic, and any contributions they've made.

It's also important to discuss the ramifications of any legal outcomes on their employment, particularly if their job requires driving or specific certifications. This reference should paint a picture of the individual's professional demeanour, reliability, and value as an employee.

Professional Colleague:

Writing a character reference for a professional colleague requires a focus on their professional demeanour and accomplishments. The reference should clearly outline the nature of the working relationship, detailing how long the colleague has known the accused and in what capacity. 

Important aspects to highlight include the individual's professional ethics, contributions to the workplace, teamwork capabilities, and any notable achievements. This type of reference should provide the court with a clear understanding of the accused's professional character, underlying traits like responsibility, integrity, and dedication in their professional life.

WHAT TO INCLUDE IN A CHARACTER REFERENCE?

Introduction of yourself:

Start by introducing yourself, specifying your occupation, and mentioning any relevant qualifications. This establishes your credibility and the context of your perspective.

Your Relationship with the Person:

Detail how and for how long you've known the person. Include the frequency and nature of your interactions, whether in person, over the phone, or otherwise.

Acknowledgment of the Charges:

While it's not necessary to have detailed knowledge of the legal specifics, acknowledging that you are aware of the charges and the individual’s court appearance lends authenticity to your reference.

Person's Reaction and Remorse:

Discuss how the person has reacted to the charges. Are they remorseful? Have they shown distress or taken steps to make amends? This could include counselling, reparations, or apologies to those affected.

Impact of the Offences:

Describe any hardships or consequences the person has already faced due to the offences, like job loss or damage to reputation.

Background and Personal Challenges:

Offer insights into the person's background, including any hardships or personal challenges that may have influenced their actions. This includes issues like substance abuse, financial troubles, or mental health concerns, and whether they are seeking help.

Opinion of the Person’s Character:

Share your honest opinion of their character and reputation in the community. Is the offence out of character for them? Why do you believe so? If they have prior convictions, explain how this impacts your view of them.

Positive Qualities and Contributions:

Highlight the person's positive qualities, including any community involvement, voluntary work, achievements in their job, education, or sporting activities. This should paint a picture of their character and contributions to society.

WHAT TO EXCLUDE IN A CHARACTER REFERENCE?

When composing a character reference for court, there are certain elements that should be deliberately excluded to maintain the reference's effectiveness and appropriateness. These elements include:

Avoid Addressing the Court Directly:

The writer should not address the court or introduce themselves in the reference as if they are speaking directly to the judge or magistrate. The reference is a document about the offender, not a personal communication to the court.

Avoid Unnecessary Personal Details:

While it’s important to establish the nature of your relationship with the offender, avoid delving into unnecessary personal details. The focus should remain on the offender's character and actions, not on the personal life of the writer.

Do Not Suggest Penalties or Sentencing:

It is not the role of the character reference to suggest what penalty the offender should receive. This decision is solely at the discretion of the magistrate or judge.

Refrain from Making Promises or Excuses:

The reference should not include promises about the offender's future behaviour or make excuses for their past actions. It is important to remain factual and not speculate about future conduct.

Do not Contradict facts of the Case:

The reference should not include statements that contradict the known facts of the case or the offender's own admissions.

By adhering to these guidelines, the character reference will remain focused, relevant, and respectful of the court's processes, thereby ensuring its effectiveness in providing insight into the offender's character.

WRITING TIPS FOR THE CHARACTER REFERENCE LETTER

Writing a character reference letter for court requires a thoughtful and structured approach to ensure its effectiveness. This letter not only reflects on the character of the individual in question but also on your credibility as the author. Here are some top writing tips to guide you in crafting a persuasive and appropriate character reference letter:

Use an Official Letterhead:

If you have access to an official letterhead, particularly if you're writing in a professional capacity, use it. It adds a level of formality and credibility to your letter.

Start with Positive Qualities:

Begin your letter by immediately highlighting the defendant’s positive qualities. This sets a constructive tone for the rest of the letter.

Keep it Relevant to the Case at Hand:

Ensure that the contents of your letter are relevant to the specific case. Tailor your examples and insights to be pertinent to the charges and the individual's character in that context.

Stick to the Facts:

Focus on factual information and firsthand observations. Avoid hearsay or assumptions, as these can undermine the reliability of your reference.

Use a Respectful Tone:

Maintain a respectful and formal tone throughout the letter. Remember that this document will be read by judicial professionals and should reflect a suitable level of respect for the court and its processes.

Avoid Making Promises of Future Behavior of the Defendant:

Refrain from making predictions or promises about the defendant’s future actions. Your focus should be on the present and past character and actions of the individual.

COURT GOOD CHARACTER REFERENCE TEMPLATE

Letterhead: i.e. CDE Pty Ltd 

Date: _/_/_
To: Presiding Judge or Magistrate 
(Name specific court you will be attending)


Introduce yourself by stating your name, address, and profession. This establishes your identity and credibility. This information is crucial as it establishes who you are, your background, and potentially your standing in the community. This section is key for the court to gauge the reliability and relevance of your reference based on your own standing and credibility.

  • “My name is (insert name) residing at (address). I am a (profession, e.g. teacher, manager) at (specific company).....”

Clearly state how long and in what context you have known the person. This could be through work, community involvement, or personal relationship. 

  • “I have known (defendant's name) for (number) years/months. Our acquaintance began during my time working for (specific company), in which I regularly interacted and gained a close friendship with..”

Acknowledge the charges without going into detail. Mention your perception of the person’s feelings about the charge. Instead, focus on your understanding of the person's emotional and psychological response to the charges.

  • “I understand that (the defendant) has to attend court about a theft charge. He/she is very upset about the charge and I believe they are extremely sorry for the crime they have committed….”

This part of the letter provides context to the accused's situation, helping the court understand any external factors that may have influenced their behaviour. It's important to describe any significant personal, financial, or emotional challenges they are facing, such as health issues in the family, financial strain, or other life stressors.

While it's crucial to provide this context, ensure that it doesn't come across as making excuses for their actions. Instead, focus on how these challenges have impacted their life and decision-making.

  • “He/she has been under stress due to their (specific situation, e.g. mother's difficult battle with cancer’). Even though they have been charged with (specific charge, e.g. theft) I would continue to trust (defendant) with my money and belongings…”

Share your honest opinion about the person’s character. Focus on positive traits and, if applicable, their usual behaviour compared to the nature of the charges. It's important to relate these traits to your personal experiences or observations to add authenticity to your statements. If the charges against the person seem out of character, state this and explain why. 

  • “I can say throughout the years I have known (defendant) that her/his character has consistently displayed traits such as, having a strong work ethic, reliability and trustworthiness, and an overall respectful demeanour towards myself and the community. I believe that any behaviour he/she displayed that caused he/sheto be charged with (crime) was a one-off event…”

Conclude by offering to provide further information if the court would like you to provide evidence about the contents of this letter, and sign off respectfully. 

  • “I am happy to discuss this reference and can be contacted on (include your phone number here). 

Yours faithfully, 
(Signature)
(Your name)

Remember, each part of the letter should provide a clear and concise view of your relationship with the person, your understanding of their situation, and your honest opinion of their character. This template serves as a guideline, feel free to adjust the content to suit the specific circumstances and your personal knowledge of the individual in question.

TAILORING COURT CHARACTER REFERENCES FOR DIFFERENT OFFENCES

Remember, each part of the letter should provide a clear and concise view of your relationship with the person, your understanding of their situation, and your honest opinion of their character. This template serves as a guideline, feel free to adjust the content to suit the specific circumstances and your personal knowledge of the individual in question.

Character reference for Assault and Domestic Violence Offences

When drafting a character reference for cases involving assault and domestic violence, it's crucial to navigate the sensitive nature of these charges carefully. A key aspect to focus on is whether the incident in question is an isolated event or part of a broader pattern of behaviour. 

It's important to honestly assess and indicate if the defendant generally exhibits non-violent behaviour in their daily life and relationships, which would suggest that the incident was out of character. 

Additionally, any efforts the defendant has made towards understanding and addressing the underlying issues, such as counselling or anger management programs, should be highlighted. 

These references should strike a balance between acknowledging the seriousness of the offence and presenting a comprehensive view of the individual's character, emphasising their typical conduct and any positive personal growth or remedial actions taken since the incident.

character reference for Drug Offences

In character references for drug offences, the focus shifts significantly towards understanding the context of the individual's drug use and their efforts towards rehabilitation. The character reference should ideally highlight any steps the individual has taken towards recovery, such as engaging in a rehabilitation program or seeking professional help.

Additionally, it's helpful to discuss the person's general behaviour and character traits outside of the drug use context, emphasising aspects of their life that demonstrate responsibility, positive community involvement, or other redeeming qualities.

The aim is to provide the court with a holistic view of the individual, showing their commitment to overcoming their challenges and the potential for positive change, while not downplaying the seriousness of the offence

character reference for Driving Offences

Character references for driving offences such as speeding, dangerous driving, or negligent driving, often revolve around the practical implications of the offence, particularly focusing on the potential loss of a driving licence and its subsequent impact. It's important to detail how such a loss would affect the individual's personal and professional life.

For example, if the person in question is likely to face significant challenges in their daily responsibilities or job due to the inability to drive, these should be clearly stated. If you are the employer of the individual, explicitly mention the impact on your business and the person's employment status.

The reference should also touch on the individual's general driving behaviour and history, highlighting any consistent patterns of safe driving, if applicable. This approach aims to provide the court with a clear understanding of the direct consequences of a licence suspension or revocation, balanced with insights into the person's typical driving behaviour and attitude towards road safety.

character reference for Drink Driving Offences

Character references for drink driving offences require a distinct approach, focusing on the individual's awareness and attitude towards the seriousness of drink driving. Unlike other offences, these references should emphasise the individual's understanding of the risks associated with drink driving and their remorse and responsibility for their actions. 

It's important to highlight any steps the individual has taken following the offence, such as participating in alcohol education programs or seeking counselling, to demonstrate their commitment to change and ensuring such an incident does not recur. 

If the person has a history of responsible drinking and the offence was a one-off mistake, this should be clearly stated. Additionally, detailing the potential impact of a licence suspension or job loss due to the offence can provide the court with a broader understanding of the personal and professional consequences for the individual.

HOW FARAJ DEFENCE LAWYERS CAN HELP

At Faraj Defence Lawyers, we offer expert assistance in crafting an effective character reference for court proceedings for all criminal and traffic-related offences, leveraging our deep understanding of the legal landscape and pinpointing the specific circumstances unique to your own case. 

Our team aids clients in crafting a good character reference through the process of highlighting the most relevant and positive aspects of the defendant's character, ensuring that the reference is well-structured, respectful, and adheres to the formalities required by the court. 

We also make sure to address any concerns about what to include or exclude, ensuring that the reference effectively communicates the defendant's remorse, rehabilitation efforts, or any personal circumstances that the court should consider.

If you require assistance writing character references for the court, reach out to our team for a free initial consultation by calling us at (02) 8896 6034 or email us at af@farajdefencelawyers.com.au.

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