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WRITING A CHARACTER REFERENCE FOR A SENTENCE HEARING

Author: Justin Craven, Brisbane Criminal Lawyer 

 

In Queensland, if you are sentenced for a criminal offence the law says the Court must have regard to your “character, age and intellectual capacity”.  A way the Court can hear about your character is by a character reference from a person who knows you well. At your sentence hearing your solicitor or barrister can tender a character reference or references to the Court. The reference/s will give the sentencing Magistrate/Judge an insight into the person you are. 

 

How many character references should you get?

There is no specific number of references you should obtain. At the end of the day your lawyer or barrister will determine which references to tender on your behalf. The more references you obtain provides your lawyer/barrister with more options to select the best references to tender on your behalf. There is no point tendering 100 references that all say the same or similar thing about you. 

Below are some tips on drafting a character reference for a sentence hearing you can provide to your referee/s.

 

10 Things a Good Character Reference Should Include

 

1. Details of the relevant judicial officer and Court where the sentence hearing is taking place

You need to address the character reference to the judicial officer who is passing the sentence. This means:

1. If you are being sentenced in the Magistrates Court you would address the reference to “The Sentencing Magistrate”. If your sentence is in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, then it could look something like:

 

The Sentencing Magistrate

Brisbane Magistrates Court

363 George Street

BRISBANE QLD 4000

 

 

2. If you are being sentenced in the District or Supreme Court you would address the reference to “The Sentencing Judge”. If your sentence is in the Brisbane District or Supreme Court, then it could look something like:

 

The Sentencing Judge

Brisbane District Court

QEII Courts of Law Complex

415 George Street

Brisbane QLD 4000

         

or

 

The Sentencing Judge

Brisbane Supreme Court

QEII Courts of Law Complex

415 George Street

Brisbane QLD 4000

 

2. Details of who you are

Clearly include: 

  • Your name.
  • If you are employed, what your job title is.
  • Any specific qualifications you hold.

 

3. What your relationship is to the person being sentenced

Say how you know the person e.g. a family member, friend, work colleague etc.

 

4. How long you have known the person

 

5. The offences you are aware the person is pleading guilty to

You must state in the reference the offences you are aware the person is pleading guilty to. For the reference to have any weight, it must identify the offences. The sentencing Magistrate or Judge wants to know you are providing the character reference with the knowledge of the offences the person is pleading guilty to.

 

6. Details of the type of person they are (i.e. their general character/ reputation) 

If the offences are out of character for the person say this, but also say why they are out of character. Before saying this you must first find out if the person has a criminal history, and if so if they have been convicted of the same or similar offences in the past. If the person has been convicted of similar offences in the past then the sentencing Magistrate or Judge will not accept your comments and may not place much weight on your reference.

 

State anything positive you can about what the person has done for you, your family, business or association during the time you have known them.

 

Things you can consider including under this heading are:

  • What is the general character of the person and their reputation in the community?
  • Has the person helped you or your family in anyway?
  • Has the person been involved in any volunteer work?
  • Is the person involved in any clubs or sporting organisations?
  • Is the person dedicated to their family or friends?
  • What are the person’s plans for the future?

 

7. If you have a letterhead use it

If you are providing the reference in your capacity as a member of an association (such as a sporting association, church or community organisation) or as an employer and you have a letterhead, place your reference on the official letterhead. 

 

8. Date the reference

 

9. Sign it

 

10. Include your contact details

 

Things a Good Character Reference Should Not Include

1. Do not suggest what penalty the Magistrate or Judge should impose.

2. Do not say anything such as the person was set up, the cops are liars, the complainant is a liar.

 

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