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Character Letters - Michael P. Maddux, P.A. Attorneys at Law

Character Letters For Sentencing.

They can be an important part of persuading a judge to accept and impose a reasonable sentence. Character letters are written on behalf of the client and made part of a sentencing memorandum will inform the judge of the client’s positive characteristics and provide support for a possible downward departure and/or a downward variance under 18 U.S.C. §3553(a), or at least a sentence at the bottom of the Guideline range, in federal court or under the mitigating factors in state court as described in Florida Statutes §916.0016 (4) [See summary of state statutory mitigating factors].

Below is a list outlining who should prepare character letters, what format they should be written in and what basic information the character letter should contain (and what they should not contain).

The letters should be sent to our office and not directly to the judge. This allows us to preview them for any content that might prove detrimental to our client.

  •     -   Use letterhead and, if at all possible, the letter should by typed.
  •     -   The letters should be independently prepared and signed by the author. One person should not type all letters in advance and simply ask people to sign them.
  •     -   Address the letters to “The Honorable Judge of the District Court” for federal cases or “The Honorable Judge of the Circuit/County Court for (County)” for state cases. Do not address the letter to defense counsel, the prosecutor, or the probation officer.
  •     -   The writer should tell who they are, what they do, and approximately how long they have known the client. The writers should not be modest about themselves. If the author is the president of the local bank, the assistant librarian, the treasurer of the Optimist Club, or a stay-at-home mom, that information should be proudly included. This lets the judge know about the writer and the writer’s relationship with the client, and more importantly, the client’s reputation and relationships in the community.
  •     -   The writer should explain how they know the defendant (school, job, church, social, civic, or family). This helps inform the judge about the client’s interaction with, and his reputation in, the community.
  •     -   If our client has been candid about his legal problems, the writers should let the court know. This shows the judge that the defendant has admitted his wrongdoing to others, which could be a positive detail, especially if acceptance of responsibility is in question.

  •     -   Each letter should include one or two positive personality traits of our client (honesty, family man, good parent, a hard worker, etc.) and use examples to illustrate these traits.
  •     -   The writers should add anything else they want to put in their letters in their own words. Anything added should be informative, but concise.
  •     -   The letters should not make disparaging remarks about the judge, the prosecutor, or any other officer of the court, or the victim. The letter should not minimize the seriousness of the offense or offer excuses. Focus on our client’s positive traits.
  •     -   Get letters from everyone - family, friends, preachers, teachers, employers, employees, co-workers, etc. The more letters submitted, the better.
  •     -   If our client has children and they are old enough, they should write a letter. Significant others should definitely write one.
  • Read here for a Sentencing Character Letter Example.


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