Character references in criminal proceedings

Character references for court

Providing your lawyer and the court with evidence of your otherwise good character can be crucial in criminal law sentencing proceedings. Significant weight can be placed on a character reference for court when determining the appropriate penalty to be imposed.

For this reason, it is important that any references you obtain are appropriately formatted and contain certain information.

Who should I get a character reference from?

Depending on your charge/s, you should consider obtaining references from:

  • immediate family members;
  • your employer and/or colleagues;
  • any charity, community or volunteer organisations you work with; and/or
  • people who have known you for a significant period of time.

How many character references should I obtain?

For a minor offence, like:

we usually recommend obtaining two to three references.

For more serious offences, like:

we suggest between three and five references.

How should a reference be formatted?

  1. References should be typed and, where possible, on letterhead.
  2. The reference should be addressed to:

The Presiding Judge/Magistrate
Supreme/District/Magistrates Court
(Place)

and should be headed:   "Re: (your name)".  Do not use "Dear Sir".

  1. The reference must state that it is provided with knowledge of the charge/s faced.
  2. The reference should then give brief details of the writer, eg who they are, position in life, family background and work details (as applicable).
  3. It should then provide some paragraphs about you and your personal attributes.
  4. The reference must be signed and dated.

What should a reference include?

The main body of the reference should cover the following matters:

  1. How the writer knows you and for how long; eg socially, through work, etc.
  2. The writer’s opinion of your character. Writers can use terms like:
  • honest;
  • hard-working;
  • reliable;
  • gentle/calm;
  • trustworthy;
  • respectful etc.
  1. If applicable, their awareness of your dealings with other persons, in business, social or community activities.
  2. Whether you have shown any level of insight, remorse, or rehabilitation since the time of the offence.
  3. Their support for you despite the charge/s.
  4. It is appropriate for them to comment that the offence surprises them or in their opinion is out of character for you.

What should a writer never do?

  1. They should not suggest that you did not commit the offence, nor comment on what penalty the court should impose.
  2. They should not criticise the law, the police, witnesses, victims or anyone else involved in the criminal court system.
  3. Writers should never knowingly provide false or misleading information.

Should I write my own character reference for court?

Absolutely not. The reference must be authored by the person signing the reference.

Aside from requesting the reference and advising the writer of your charge/s, you should have no involvement in its content.

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This article is of a general nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require further information, advice or assistance for your specific circumstances, please contact Gilshenan & Luton, Criminal Lawyers Brisbane and Sunshine Coast, Queensland.

Get in touch with the author:
Sarah Ford

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