Criminal defence lawyers recommend writing an apology letter to the magistrate or judge presiding over a client’s case in circumstances when an individual plans on pleading guilty to the charge or charges that have been laid against their name.
New South Wales law provides that if there is evidence that a defendant is genuinely remorseful for committing an offence – whether that be a criminal or traffic offence, or in cases of lodging a driver licence appeal, this can prove beneficial and act as a mitigating factor.
What is a mitigating factor?
A mitigating factor lessens a defendant’s culpability and can lead to a more lenient outcome than that which would otherwise have been obtained.
Under section 21A(3)(i) of the Criminal Procedure Act 1999 (NSW), “remorse shown” serves to mitigate on sentencing, whilst 21A(3)(g) extends this to any written evidence of an unlikelihood to reoffend.
Key information to be conveyed to a judicial officer presiding over a case is an expression of remorse over having broken the law and the acceptance of full responsibility for actions constituting the crime, along with any resulting negative outcomes, as a guilty plea infers this is already the case.
This expression of regret on the part of the defendant can result in a judge handing down a more lenient sentence, and the statement itself can not only lament the negative outcomes of breaking the law, but it can also express the client’s deep disappointment in having taken up the court’s time.
When should an apology letter be written?
Apology letters play a factor when a defendant is accepting responsibility for and pleading guilty to the crime they’ve been charged with.
If a person standing trial is arguing their innocence, there’s no need to apologise for the offence they stand accused of if they’re claiming they didn’t commit it.
As noted above, apology letters don’t only impact in relation to criminal or traffic offences, but they can be useful in showing remorse in relation to traffic breaches that result in the suspension of an unrestricted or professional driver licence in an attempt to secure a good behaviour driving period.
And in cases where an individual takes an infringement notice to court to challenge whether it was correct for the authorising officer to have penalised the individual in this way, the appellant can also write an apology letter in relation to taking up the court’s time, despite not admitting guilt.
On being submitted as part of proceedings, an apology letter stipulates remorse in relation to a charge of breaking of the law, and, in making this admission, the defendant indicates that a resulting punishment does not have to serve the purpose of producing such a feeling of regret within them.
How should an apology letter be structured?
A letter of apology should be typed, if possible, and a letterhead at the top of the page is ideal. The letter should be dated, followed by a line addressing the presiding Local Court magistrate or District Court judge, the specific court should be named next and followed by a “Your Honour” to open.
The letter should then outline the accused’s acceptance of guilt and responsibility for the outcomes of their crime/s. It should also state any remorse or embarrassment felt, as well as show insight into how the crime has impacted. And the court should be assured there is no prospect of reoffending.
Personal details about the defendant should also be expressed to give the judicial officer an understanding of who they are. And such details should include age, any information regarding employment, family commitments, as well as the effects a conviction will likely have on one’s life.
Other details regularly considered by a judge on sentencing that should be noted, include charity contributions, mental or physical health issues, financial situation and any rehabilitative steps taken since arrest and charge. And for those on remand, good behaviour inside can also be considered.
How should an apology letter address specific offences?
As the submission of an apology letter can cover a range of different offences and proceedings, differing approaches within the written statement of regret to the judge can apply.
An example of this is that in circumstances involving an individual who has committed an act of civil disobedience or has attempted to convey a political message of protest via the breaking of the law, they would apologise to the court for taking up its time but not for the act that made the statement.
In terms of an assault offence, those accepting responsibility for the crime should show an appreciation of the harms that may have been caused by their actions, and, in particular, any negative impact or consequences caused to a victim of the crime should specifically be noted.
For driving cases, an offender should outline their understanding of how their dangerous road behaviour not only impacted in that specific instance, but an awareness should be shown in regard to the overall negative outcomes this type of traffic crime causes the community as a whole.
And in matters involving a drug offence, it’s beneficial to state how the crime contributed to the broader negative aspects that the illicit drug trade has on society as a whole, as well as expressing any concerns for the danger that their specific engagement in drugs could cause them.
Going to court?
Finally, any attempt to shirk responsibility for the crime an offender is pleading guilty to, or to shift responsibility for breaking the law, should be avoided, as should any recommendation on how the writer of the apology letter would like the judge or the magistrate to proceed on sentencing.
So, if you might have a reason to write an apology letter and are therefore required to appear in court, call Sydney Criminal Lawyers on 9261 8881 to arrange a free first conference with an experienced defence lawyer, who will assess your case and advise on options moving forward.