A Magistrate or Judge does not know anything about an accused person prior to their matter being called on in court. The only information they have is what’s contained in the police material and what is said on the accused’s behalf by their solicitor or barrister. Character references are an important mitigatory tool used during a guilty plea. They give the sentencing Magistrate or Judge an insight into an accused’s character which only someone who personally knows the accused can give. Character references also validate oral submissions that an accused’s solicitor or barrister makes in court. For example, a solicitor may submit – ‘my client is actively involved in his community by volunteering at the local soccer club. Here is a character reference prepared by the soccer club’s president confirming this’.
This article will provide some general tips on how to prepare a court appropriate character reference.
The character reference must be dated. This will give the sentencing court comfort to know that the character reference is contemporary and relevant.
The character reference must be in letter form and be addressed ‘to the sentencing court’ or ‘to Your Honour’. This shows deference to the court.
Acknowledge what the reference is for
The reference should begin with a line acknowledging that the author is aware of the letter’s purpose. A commonly accepted line is ‘This reference is written for [client’s name] who is pleading guilty in court to [charges]‘.
Acknowledge relationship to accused
The referee must identify who the accused person is, their relationship and how long they have known the accused for. For instance – ‘John is my friend who I met in high school. We have known each other continuously for 32 years’. Or ‘John is my son and I have had a continuous relationship with him since he was born’.
Be specific and detailed
The author should be specific and provide detailed examples of why they think positively of the accused. For instances – ‘John is a wonderful friend who is generous with his time. For example, he picks me up every Thursday afternoon and drives me to Coles to do my weekly grocery shopping because I don’t drive’. Another example is ‘John is a fantastic father who has a positive relationship with his two young sons. He takes his sons to school every morning and picks them up in the afternoon.’
The purpose of the reference is to provide the court with some understanding of an accused. This will not be achieved if the referee uses broad expressions which don’t add dimension to the accused’s character.
The character reference must be signed by its author. In most instances, a character reference is relied on in court instead of the author physically attending court. Therefore, it must be signed so that the court knows it is a genuine document.
The most fundamental requirement is the character reference must be truthful. A prudent solicitor will not tender a character reference which they know or suspect to contain lies. In addition to be unethical, tendering an untruthful character reference may infuriate a Magistrate or Judge and compromise the plea hearing.
Feel free to contact me on 9317 9712 if you would like tailored advice on how to prepare for your plea hearing to optimise your outcome.