Character reference letters

Have you ever written one? Someone asked me to do one and I’ve been thinking about it all morning. I’m struck by how insincere sounding most of the examples I’ve found on the web are.

Who is impressed by these letters? Why do people write them? More important, how should one approach the task of writing it?

The one I’ve been asked to write is to a judge and I’ve been asked to specifically request that the judge sentence below the sentencing guidelines. I’m not asking for help, but just a general discussion of character reference letters.

Has anyone ever asked you to write one? Do you have a job where you read letters people send in? If so, are you ever swayed by anything that is said? It all just seems so – I don’t know – artificial.

Maybe I am thinking about it too much.

I have written them before, yes, for friends, although not in connection to any judicial proceedings.

My M.O. is usually to write them as sincerely as possible and try and make them sound human (albeit a good human). Most of the ones I’ve read have either been obvious form letters or petitions for sainthood, and I don’t take any of those seriously.

I like to make it sound like I actually know the person.


  1. How you know them
  2. How long you have known them
  3. Positive characteristics they have (if any)
  4. Any effect they may have had on you or your family
  5. How they are important to their own family
  6. Any unique or positive interactions you have noted.

Doesn’t have to be a novel. Just make it positive if you are so inclined.

I’ve written a few. Actually got a call back on one. That was surprising. An old friend of mine was going to adopt his girlfriend’s daughter. I had to basically tell them that he was who he said he was, he wasn’t a pervert, he would be a good father. I felt like I did a good thing.

You are over thinking this.

You are demonstrating to the judge that the guilty party is not an entire low life scumbag he belongs to a community that includes you and that if the judge has any room to maneuver you think erring on the side of leniency for your friend wouldn’t be a bad thing.

The judge my not have any room to maneuver. Mandatory sentencing is all the rage in too many places. Leaving judges with nothing to do but consult a flow chart.

This is helpful guys. I re-read what I wrote and tweaked it a little in some important ways. You’re numbered list was especially helpful Jag.

I think I get it. It’s sort of like a resume, meant to quickly provide the essential information in a upbeat, positive way. I do think the trick is to make it seem as personal as possible.

If you have been asked to request a lesser sentencing then I would definitely include such a request.

I helped a family member write one of these for another family member and it came out better because I followed directions. Mandatory sentencing and all that, that’s not your concern. Give them what they ask for, anything else is for them to deal with. Whatever else happens, at least you can always say you did your part to help when needed.

I agree. I put that right at the top.

At first I was tyring to sound too objective, but I realized that wasn’t what was called for at all. I’ve only known the guy for a short time, but I do like him, and we’ve been able to connect in a few different ways that I tried to articulate.

Plus, I added some basic but important things like having a job, girlfriend, place to live, etc. If you’re a judge trying to decide if someone is capable of not going to jail, those have to factor into the equation.