When a person is charged with a criminal or
traffic offence, they are entitled to have their side of the story heard. In Australia,
character references are a good way to explain to a judge or magistrate all of the person’s
positive attributes to give the court a greater insight into their personal circumstances. When choosing a referee, it is important to
choose a person who is close enough to you to provide both a detailed explanation of
your character and the issues presented by the charge. This might include family members,
co-workers or friends. A character reference can be a very effective
tool for persuading a court to make decisions which are favourable for the offender. A well-written
and detailed character reference may impact upon the final decision that is made and,
ultimately, the penalty that is handed down. Therefore, it is important to be aware of
what you can and cannot include. There is no one standard way in which a character
reference should be written, but some general rules do apply. A character reference:
must be typed should include a signature and date
should, if possible, be printed on letterhead must be addressed to the appropriate person,
such as ‘the Presiding Magistrate’. Any further references to the magistrate or
judge in the character reference must start with ‘Your Honour’. When writing a character reference, you need
to take care with what you include so you do not make things worse for the offender.
Be thoughtful when writing about prior offences that the offender has committed.
Don’t try to suggest the kind of penalty the offender should receive.
Don’t write general statements about the offender – you must be specific.
Don’t lie in a character reference – it is a crime to deceive the court and you may
find yourself in trouble. Don’t make formal suggestions or speeches.
Don’t be critical of the court, or the magistrate or judge.
Instead: Be courteous at all times.
Introduce yourself, state your occupation and qualifications and establish that you
are of good character. Indicate that you are aware of the offence
that the offender has committed. Include specific details of the offender’s
character and details of your relationship with the offender.
Include details of the positive aspects of the offender’s personality.
If you believe the offence was a one-off incident, you should say so.
Include details of any unfavourable consequences the offender will experience as a result of
conviction. You should tailor your letter to the particular
offender and to the particular charge. For example, if the offender has been charged
with drink driving offences, your character reference will need to set out issues relating
to drinking. It may explain how the offender is trying to be more responsible with their
alcohol consumption, the steps they are taking to ensure the incident does not happen again,
or that they acknowledge that drink driving is a mistake. You may also wish to detail
the personal consequences that the offender will experience as a result of losing their
licence. If the offender has been charged with, for
example, an assault offence, the character reference should, if possible, set out details
indicating that the offender is generally of a non-violent nature, how the offender
has previously interacted with family and friends, and other details that will demonstrate
to the court that the offender is not a threat to the community.
A character reference for someone facing drug charges should focus on the rehabilitation
of the offender. The reference may detail steps the offender has taken to stop using
drugs and whether the offender has family or friends who can act as a support base going
forward. If you or someone you know has been charged
with an offence and you are not sure of what is involved in arranging a character reference,
a solicitor can assist you. You may also wish to seek advice about court appearances, penalties
and possible defences that are involved with your case. It is important to obtain legal
advice quickly. Go To Court Lawyers operate a Legal Hotline
on 1300 636 846 where you can talk directly to a lawyer 7am – midnight, 7 days/week. Your
call will be treated with the strictest confidentiality and without judgement. The lawyer will assess your matter and recommend
a course of action. Should you need a Court lawyer, even if it
is at very short notice, the Legal Hotline staff will be able to arrange legal representation
for you. You can also request a call back via the website gotocourt.com.au and a lawyer
will call you back to assess your matter.