Why is the character reference so important ?

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Evidence may be adduced in sentencing proceedings for the purposes of establishing that, apart from the commission of the offence for which the offender is to be sentenced, the offender is a person of “good behaviour” or “otherwise” of good behaviour.

Evidence of good character may support a more lenient sentence. This is because lawyers at National Criminal Lawyers would argue that:

1. Reduced seriousness of the offence;
2. Reduced need for specific deterrence and enhances prospects of rehabilitation
3. Reduced weight given to retribution and general deterrence;
4. The could should apply “mercy”; and

The above is supported by comments in the High Court case of Ryan [2001] HCA 21where McHugh J stated at [30]:

“Another, but less articulated, reason for considering good character in the sentencing context appears to involve the idea that those morally good person is less deserving of punishment for a particular offence than a morally neutral or bad person who committed an identical offence.

People who are charged with a criminal offence are often guilty of that offence. National Criminal Lawyers are well versed in assessing and advising on whether a person should plead guilty to an offence or whether a defence at law exists.

When a person pleads guilty to an offence or is found guilty by a Court of competent jurisdiction, most of the time they will need to appear before the Court in what is called a “sentence”. This is a hearing before the Court where an Accused has an opportunity to advise the Court (through his/her lawyer) about factors that gave rise to the offence and to the Accused’s character generally. These factors are referred to as “mitigating factors”.

The Court must consider these mitigating factors when making an order for an appropriate sentence.

Section 21A of The Act contain the mitigating factors that the Court must have regard to. They include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  1. Prospects of rehabilitation; and
  2. Remorse and contrition

Having regard to the above factors which is contained in Law, a prudent Criminal Lawyer would advise their client to show evidence of remorse and contrition. The best ways to do this is by an offender preparing characters references by a person of standing and a letter of apology.

Below is a guide on how to write a character reference and letter of apology.

How to write a character reference?

References are an extremely important part of a plea of guilty in Court. They are generally tendered without question, and always effect the severity of any applicable penalty, often to a marked degree. Clearly, this is a client’s golden opportunity to impress upon the court what a marvellous, hardworking, family and community orientated person you they are.

There are a few basic rules in obtaining references;

To the client

  1. The references must be clearly made for the particular court appearance;
  2. The idea is to obtain as many as a client possibly can. As a general rule, three (3) references is a good number to aim for;
  3. It is important that a client obtains a spread of different types of people speaking up for them, i.e. family, employment, social, sport and/or community/sport involvement. Your relatives, incl. Wife etc, are perfectly acceptable referees however are not given as much weight as other members of standing in the community; and
  4. As a client obtains their references, they should place them flat in one only plastic sleeve to keep them in pristine condition. The Magistrate/judge does not want to waste time unravelling letters
  5. folded up in envelopes. Have originals all together at court and email me the references as soon as they are available to you. As I may suggest amendments.

To the Person Writing the Reference

  1. It is advisable to have the references typed on paper on the letterhead of the company or an association;
  2. The references must be signed;
  3. The reference should be dated and addressed as follows:

                The Presiding Magistrate

                [insert which court here] Local Court

                Dear Magistrate

                Re: Insert name – Character Reference

  1. Do not write “to whom it may concern”. This reference must be absolutely specific not only to court, but to this particular court appearance;
  2. The ‘referee’ should say something about him/herself and include any positions or titles held;
  3. All references should outline how they know and  how long they have known the offender.  They should outline any personal observations that the referee has of  offender, including their character;
  4. All references should state that they know why the offender’s matter is before the Court;
  5. All references should state that despite the offence, the offender is otherwise of good character;
  6. The references should state that the offender has communicated to their referees that you they are remorseful and sorry for their conduct;
  7. In relation to the references, more is better than less.  That is, please make sure that each of the character references are three or more paragraphs in length;
  8. The references should not be identical. If all the references read the same, then they will hold much less weight.
  9. Please bring three signed copies to Court as one is usually handed up to the Magistrate/Judge, one is often left with the prosecution and the third one is for your criminal lawyer to refer to in submissions to the Court; and
  10. The following are examples of matters you may wish to touch upon in the body of your reference:
  11. That the subject of the reference has explained to you the nature of the charge and the applicable penalties;
  12. The consequence of any penalty on the person e.g. loss of job, employment prospects, etc.
  13. Good character (be specific and give examples) – please check his criminal record before saying that he is “honest” or that the offence is “out of character”;
  14. Your employment.
  15. Community service such as charity work or the coaching of children’s’ sporting teams;
  16. Achievements such as industry awards and scholastic achievements;
  17. Devotion to family;
  18. Has the subject appeared to regret the offence? How has it affected him on a personal, financial or business level? Have you noticed a change in his attitude since the offence?
  19. If dealt with leniently on penalty, are you confident that he would not re-offend? Provide some reason/s.
  20. If the offence is one that carries a loss of licence, the referees should state your needs for a licence. Classic reasons for reduction of auto period of disqualification are:
  • Nature of your employment. If you will lose your job without a license, then one of your referees must state this plainly and unequivocally in the reference; the court will see straight through waffle such as “his position may be reviewed” etc;
  • No viable alternative transport. This mainly applies to people in the country, but may apply if you are a shift worker, or to females who work late in isolated areas; and
  • Family reasons such as care for a child or elderly parents, sickness etc of yourself or another who relies upon your ability to drive.

Letters Of Apology

Letters of apology should follow the same format as references in terms of presentation. However, letters should include:

  1. An apology of the offenders conduct;
  2. A summary of how they perceived themselves as a person e.g. what they do and who they consider themselves to be;
  3. A statement of the effect a conviction or the consequences that flow from a conviction would have on the offenders life. Such statements should be supported by corroborating material e.g. letters from employers, doctors, etc
  4. Evidence of remorse and any steps taken to change behaviour e.g. attendance at counselling, drug tests, psychological appointments and/or Traffic Offenders Program;
  5. An explanation as to the circumstances of the offending. However, do not make excuses for criminal conduct, simply state what happened; and

The offender should show understanding of the seriousness of the offence e.g. impact on the community, yourself and others in your life.

Why National Criminal Lawyers?

National Criminal Lawyers take pride and passion in representing our clients and always provide quality legal representation in the metropolitan area or throughout New South Wales. We have a policy of being highly accessible to our clients and have genuine commitment to each and every client.  These factors set us apart from other criminal law firms.

National Criminal Lawyers offers one FREE consultation with a Senior Criminal Lawyers guaranteed which can help you understand the process, explore possible defences, discuss proven legal strategies and understand what possible outcomes might be achieved.

National Criminal Lawyers practices exclusively in Criminal Law and has employed some of the best criminal experts with over 25 years combined experience.

If you have been charged with any Criminal offence our Team at National Criminal Lawyers are well versed and specialists in addressing on penalty and otherwise achieving favourable outcomes. Please contact our office on 02 9893 1889 or visit www.nationalcriminallawyers.com.au for more information about your options.



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