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How to Write a Letter to a Judge

Instructor: Leanne White

Leanne has a master's degree and an independent licensure in chemical dependency counseling. She has extended experience in corrections and post-secondary education.

Interested in writing a letter to a judge? What do you include and how do you ensure that your letter is taken seriously? This lesson will explore common letters sent to judges, contents of professional letters, and how to address a judge.

Writing a Letter to a Judge

Writing a letter to a judge can be intimidating. It's important to put effort into the process so the letter is taken seriously and fulfills its purpose. Assuming your goal isn't to insult the judge, it's imperative to understand how to write a professional letter, what to include, and how to address a judge.

Reasons to Write a Letter

There are several reasons as to why someone would write a letter to a judge. These reasons include but are not limited to:

  • A victim statement
  • An impact statement
  • Request for lenient consequences
  • A character reference

Victim statement

A victim statement is a letter from the person who was victimized by the defendant. The letter explains how the crime has affected them, how life has changed since the victimization, and any damage that has been caused. Victim statements can make a huge difference in sentencing.

An example would be the homeowner of a burglary. The victim statement could explain how the homeowner now feels unsafe in their own home or how they had to replace their stolen property. In this scenario, the judge may place a higher amount of restitution (money the defendant must pay back to the victim) due to the inconvenience the burglary caused.

Impact statement

Similar to victim statements, impact statements explain how the defendant's offense has impacted a person's life. However, unlike victim statements, impact statements are usually written by people other than the victim, such as family members or friends of the victim.

An example would be a letter from the victim's mother of a drunk driving accident. She may explain that she had to quit her job so she could stay home and take care of her son, who is now paralyzed from the accident. Based on this impact statement, the judge may order the defendant to pay the mother restitution for her job loss.

Request for lenient consequences

Some people will write letters to the judge requesting lenient consequences for themselves. They may explain to the judge why they deserve lenient consequences or what they would like to see happen at their sentencing hearing. It's also possible to explain to the judge how they have made changes since the offense. If done so properly, this letter could make a difference when the judge makes sentencing decisions.

An example would be a mother of two young children asking for house arrest instead of jail time. She could explain to the judge that by sentencing her to jail, her children would be without their mother and in foster care. She could explain that since her offense, she has entered counseling, met with her probation officer, refrained from using drugs, and has met all other expectations. By making this effort, the judge may approve her request.

Character reference

Character references are usually written by the defendant's family, employer, or friends advocating for the defendant. These letters can include examples as to why the defendant's behavior was out of character or how the defendant has changed since the offense. Again, character references can go a long way if written professionally and include relevant information.

An example of a character reference is the pastor of a defendant explaining to the judge that the defendant's behavior was out of character for them. The pastor may explain how long he has known the defendant, the defendant's behavior while at church, and the defendant's participation in church events. If the defendant can accumulate enough character references that attest to his true character, it may convince the judge that the criminal behavior was just a bad decision. This could lead to lenient consequences.

It's important to note that if you are the defendant, it's recommended that you consult with your attorney before sending the judge a letter on your own behalf.

Writing Style

When writing to a judge, it is imperative that your letter is clear, concise, proofread, and professional. Judges can be extremely busy and it's important that you put time and effort into your letter so it is memorable and taken seriously. Below are points to remember when writing a letter to someone of importance:

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