Providing a Personal Reference in Court

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Do you know someone who is facing criminal charges and has to go to court?

Providing a personal reference for someone who is going to court can help them present a favourable impression to the judge or magistrate, and may help them receive a more lenient penalty or even avoid conviction altogether.

If you want to be a referee for someone you know, whether a friend or a co-worker, it’s important that you have no previous criminal convictions and have a good reputation in the community.

You need to be over the age of 18 to be a referee.

What is the purpose of a character reference in court?

A character reference written by someone who knows the defendant personally can help them prove they are of good character and emphasis their good qualities such as responsibility, honesty and reliability, which can support their defence in a criminal matter.

Character references can also support the likely impact of a harsh sentence or licence suspension on the defendant, and be used to help persuade a judge or magistrate to choose a less harsh penalty or deal with the matter under a section 10 dismissal or conditional release order.

A section 10 dismissal or conditional release order means that a criminal conviction will not be recorded against your name.

Character references can be used to demonstrate that the alleged criminal act was out of character, or to support the defendant’s claim that there were mitigating circumstances leading up to the offence which justify a lenient sentence, a non conviction order.

What should I include in a character reference?

The information included in a character reference will depend on the nature of the alleged offence and whether the defendant is pleading guilty or not guilty.

You should speak to your friend or co-worker’s lawyer to find out what specific information will be most relevant to their situation.

Although it’s important that your reference is written in your own words and is truthful, there are a few guidelines which you can keep in mind when deciding what to include and how to structure your written reference.

Making sure all the relevant information is included can give your friend or colleague the best possible chance of a positive outcome, and allows you help them as much as possible.

Here is a list of things you might like to include in a personal reference:

  • Details about yourself. It’s a good idea to begin by explaining who you are and what your relationship is to the defendant. Mention how long you have known them, in what capacity and how often you see them.
  • Mention some positive traits about the person you are writing about. Include examples where possible. Are they conscientious? Helpful? Trustworthy? Think about times when they might have demonstrated these traits and include them to give your assertions more weight.
  • Make it clear that you understand the charges your friend or co-worker is facing and the seriousness of them. Also show that you are aware of any previous charges.
  • If the offence was out of character for the defendant, it’s important to mention this and that you don’t believe they are likely to do it again.
  • If the defendant has expressed understanding of the significance of their actions and showed remorse, make this clear in the reference. Demonstrating that they understand the seriousness of their actions and are genuinely sorry can help create a strong defence.
  • Mention the consequences of a criminal conviction or driving licence suspension on the defendant. Are the likely to lose their job, struggle to meet family commitments, encounter financial difficulties or experience any other problems as a result of conviction?

Whatever you choose to say in a character reference, it’s important that it’s in your own words and that everything you say is truthful.

It should be typed, signed and dated before being submitted to court.

If you have been asked to provide a character reference for someone you know and you aren’t sure what to write in it, you can speak to their criminal lawyer for advice.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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