How to Write a Letter to a Judge for Sentencing

How To Write A Letter To The Judge For Sentencing

Video Transcript: How To Write A Letter To A Judge For Sentencing - R&R Law Group
In this video, we’re talking about how to write a letter to a judge.

This is a question we get very often. Do people want to know what happens if I write a letter to the judge? Was that going to accomplish my goals? Some people want their cases dismissed, they think if they send a nice letter, the judge can wave a magic wand and the case is going to go away or they ask the judge “can I reduce my charges? Please reduce my charges. Listen to my story and give me a reduction.” Well in most situations, the judge does not have the legal authority to do that. The judge just can’t do it. The prosecutor is the person who is representing the government, they’re the ones representing the police officer or the investigation or the state.

And so they’re the ones that have that authority and the judge doesn’t but there are times in a case when a judge does have some discretion to do something.

And this, most of the time comes across in sentencing. At a sentencing phase, what that means is that a person has either plead guilty to the charge or to the charges or they’ve been found guilty by a jury or by a judge, meaning the case is essentially closed.

The matter or the question as to whether or not there’s guilt or whether there’s any question about that it’s settled.

At this point in time, the judge is now sentencing somebody. And at this stage, a letter to the judge can be very helpful. In many situations, judges have some discretion.

They can give somebody sort of a presumptive, middle of the line sentence.

They can give somebody an aggravated sentence, a very kind of increased maximum sentence, or they can reduce it down to a minimum or even a mitigated sentence.

They have some discretion in that spectrum there.

So this is where sometimes letters can be very helpful and so this video is for that purpose. It’s really for people who want to write letters on behalf of somebody who has already been convicted or found guilty or pled guilty to a crime, and now we’re asking the judge to give him a better sentence. So really when this is most relevant.

Otherwise the letters to the judge just really don’t do much of anything and are generally not advised.

So let’s run through some of the key points that we want to make sure that is in every single letter that goes to the judge. Number one, your name. You’re going to be writing a letter to the judge, you want to make sure that your name is in there. You’re properly identified. Don’t call yourself Joe, call yourself Joseph Smith. Whatever the name is you want to make sure that that’s all out there. Make sure it’s a full name. You also want to make sure you identify the relationship to the defendant so don’t just say “I know John, this is Joe I know John from Starbucks but we have a relationship. This is how. We went to grade school together and middle school and college. Our kids are on the same little league team. We coach Pop Warner together.” Whatever it is, you want to make sure that relationship is established so that the judge can immediately see what the connection is.

Family, friends, husband, wife, those are all very good connections. You want to make sure that that is in there. The other thing you want to focus on is the defendant’s good points. So the person who was convicted of the charge, you want to make sure you’re talking about only their good points, none of the bad stuff.

Leave all that out. So when you’re talking about this person you say, “Hey, I know John he’s this, he’s this, he’s this, he’s this.” All good points. A loving father, hard-working employee, he’s a dedicated wife, whatever it is.

Whatever the situation is you want to make sure those are bullet points and they’re all detailed out there. You also want to take a moment to acknowledge the seriousness of this situation.

You want to recognize yes, I know this is a serious offense, I recognize he was convicted of it, we are taking this seriously, I’m taking the time to write a letter, and we know how important this is.

Then you want to establish how you’re going to help that person.

Really explain your willingness to support that person throughout the entirety of whatever the sentence is going to be.

You want to explain to the judge when this person is done after this case is over, this person has a place to come home to, this person has a home, this person has somebody who’s going to transport them to work or to school.

This person has somebody who’s going to help them find a job. Whatever it is, whatever that person needs, a twelve-step substance abuse program, get them into rehab, get them to see a counselor, whatever those are you want to make sure that the judge can see that.

The judge sees there is a community of people, there is a person who’s writing this letter who is acknowledging, that they are willing and they’re available to help this person through whatever’s necessary.

That shows the judge that there is a lot of weight there, there’s a lot of heft behind this letter, and it shows the judge that there’s a community out there to support this person. It’s all very important stuff.

Couple other things I left off here, you want to make sure you’re addressing the right judge. So most people are assigned to a judge and there’s a sentencing judge, you want to make sure the letter is going to that judge.

You want to make sure it’s addressed appropriately. Make sure it includes the proper salutation, Honorable Judge. You want to make sure that it’s going to the right court.

Obviously in those types of things. Those are things that our office of course checks, as well as grammar, punctuation, format, all of those things are important.

You want to make sure it’s legible, you don’t want to make sure it’s you know, hand-written on the back of a napkin or something like that.

Make sure this is appropriate, it’s formal, it’s going to a judge and the judge’s decision has a very big impact on this rest of this person’s life.

Some things that we don’t want to do in any one of these letters. Number one, you don’t want to bad mouth the judge, you don’t want to bad mouth the court system, you don’t want to bad mouth the prosecutors, or the police.

That’s all done and over. This person has been convicted, the case as far as that goes is now closed. You want to now just address what the judge can do. You don’t want to- the judge cannot go in and change the judicial system.

The judge can’t fire the whole police department. The judge can’t give you reparations for the time this has caused you, or the hardship this has caused you personally.

The judge really doesn’t have a lot of authority to do much of anything about any of that. So you want to keep it focused, keep it focused on the defendant’s good points, don’t use this opportunity to kind of vent your rage at the justice system.

The next thing you want to do is like I said, stay away from the bad points. So leave out the bad points, leave out any social problems that this person has.

There may be situations where a person has overcome some pretty serious trials and tribulations and those may be relevant and those may be useful, but we recommend that there’s a general rule you leave that stuff out. You don’t want to say “Hey, this individual is now on his third marriage but he’s got two kids from the prior marriages that if he goes to prison he’s not going to be able to care for them, or he’s not going to be able to support his out of wedlock children from whatever.” You want to leave all that social stuff out of it.

The judge may take a look at any of that stuff and say, “Okay this person has a pattern of being irresponsible or this person has a history of conflating the traditional norms of society.” And so you want to make sure that that stuff is out. It’s just not relevant at this point.

The other thing that is important, we see this a lot, is you can’t ask the judge to do impossible things. The judge is legally bound to do certain things.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the video, the judge does not have the authority to just dismiss most cases. The judge does not have the authority to reduce one charge into another charge.

They just don’t have the legal ability to do that. What they can do is operate within the confines of the rules, within the confines of the sentencing parameters. And so you want to make sure you’re not asking them to do something illegal, something they have no legal ability to do. You want to make sure that you understand what you’re requesting and make that request or make that pitch. Not ask them to do something illegal.

So these are the general guidelines. This can be very powerful stuff, right? This is not just one simple letter, this is very powerful. Judges do read these by enlarge.

My opinion is most of them do read them and they can go a long way. You don’t want to make it twenty-five pages, you want to keep it short, concise, and to the point so that the judge can look at it and give it the weight that he or she believes it deserves.

The other thing that can be very powerful is if you have a stack of these things. And so in certain situations, we will have people that we work with start working on that immediately from day one. We say we need to really start beefing up our what’s called mitigation.

We want letters, we want recommendations, we want to really have a big file of different letters from everybody throughout the community that we can just take up to the judge and just throw a phone book full of letters right on their desk and say “This is how much support this person has. This is how much impact this person has on the community.

Look at all these many dozens and dozens of people who care about of this individual to the point where they took time out of their day to write a letter.” This is all very powerful stuff and when a judge can see that he or she will then know that that person upon being sentenced, is going to go back out into the community and have a tremendous mesh of support across the board.

So I hope this helps. If you’d like to discuss it further, if you find yourself in this situation where you believe you have to plead guilty, if you’ve already pled guilty, if you’re watching this video on behalf of somebody you love or care about, these are the general rules but if you’d like some help on it, if you want to get our thoughts on how this process might impact your case or what the maximums and minimums are, how the logistics work, give our office a call we offer free case evaluations, we’re happy to sit down with you and make sure you have a plan on this stuff moving forward.

Thanks for watching.

A common misconception is that a judge can dismiss or reduce a person’s charges. In most cases, a judge can not do that. Only the prosecutor has that authority as the one representing the government and the police, not the judge.

But there are times in a case when a judge does have the discretion to do something. This is mostly in the sentencing phase of a case. The sentencing phase of a case is where the person has either plead guilty or they have been found guilty by a jury or a judge. Meaning the case is essentially closed.

At this stage, a letter to the judge can be a very helpful tool. In many situations, judges have some discretion, for good or bad, on the overall consequence of the case. This is where letters can be very powerful.

Here is a list of key points you will want to make sure are included in every letter to a judge:

  1. Your name, your complete legal name.
  2. Your relationship to the person you are writing on behalf of.
  3. Only the good points about the person-do not disparage the person in any way. 
  4. Acknowledge the seriousness of the charge.
  5. Let the judge know how you are going to help and how you will be involved with this person after sentencing.

Another important factor is to make sure you are connecting with the correct judge. Obviously, the letter needs to get to the judge that will actually be doing the sentencing. Remember to use formal salutations to show respect and please make sure you are using correct grammar and spelling.

Some Don’ts are:

  1. No venting or bad mouthing. You may have had some negative experiences with the police, prosecutor or even the judge himself or herself, keep them out of the letter.
  2. Do not disparage the person you are writing the letter for. Even if the person has overcome something, do not bring it up. Keep the letter positive!
  3. Don’t ask for something the judge can not do. As stated earlier a judge has no legal authority to dismiss charges or reduce one charge to another less serious charge. Understand what you are requesting. 

Judges do read these letters so you do want to keep them short, concise and to the point so the judge can look at it and give it the weight it deserves. The R&R Law Group believes strongly in mitigation. We often have our clients start collecting letters early on in a case. It is a very powerful thing to bring a huge file of letters to a judge’s desk and say, “This is how much support this person has; this is how much impact this person has in their community; this is how much they are loved.” If a judge can see this and know that this person is loved, cared about and supported when they go back out into the community it can have a tremendous impact on that person’s sentencing.