Should I Write an Apology Letter to the Court or the Victim if I’m Pleading Guilty?

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Man writing letter

If you don’t have a lawyer, an apology letter to the judge or magistrate is a great place to start as you may be nervous and a letter allows you time to think about exactly what you want to say and ensure you won’t forget anything in court if nerves get the better of you.

Apology letters are a great way to demonstrate responsibility and remorse for your actions.

If you have a lawyer, you should give the letter to him or her to hand up when before the court.

Not only will your letter be most likely be appreciated by the magistrate or judge, it may help your prospects in the courtroom too.

While an apology letter to the judge/magistrate is often an excellent way to show your remorse after you have committed an offence, it’s success will largely depend on how serious the crime was.

A letter apologising for a smaller offence is much more likely to be successful than a grave crime.

A magistrate will also be considering your likelihood at reoffending. A sincere apology letter may show you have learnt your lesson and may go some way to proving this.

Writing a letter to the victim can be one way of repairing the harm caused.

A letter to the victim can be sent or delivered to the officer in charge, who is supposed to then forward it to the victim.

If your actions resulted in property damage, the amount of that damage will often be stated in your court attendance notice. If so, it’s a good idea to provide a bank cheque for the sum of damage caused.

You should keep a copy of that letter and cheque so that you can hand it up to the magistrate or judge.

When the magistrate or judge is sentencing you, he or she can consider the fact that you have taken responsibility for your actions as well as paid for any loss or damage caused.

Courts have a fair amount of discretion when sentencing.

Many victims will be happy to receive a sign of your recognition of the harm that you have caused them, especially if your crime wasn’t intentional or didn’t cause a great deal of harm.

However, apology letters to victims will not be appropriate in all circumstances.

Some child sex offenders outed in the inquiry that has been going on Australia-wide have written apology letters to their victims.

One of these, whose case was heard in Western Australia, is still awaiting sentencing.

The priest guilty of assaulting a student back in the 80s wrote his victim an apology letter and asked for forgiveness.

It was reported that in court he acknowledged that he had taken advantage of his victim, although he also stated that at the time he didn’t think there was anything unusual about having an attraction to the teen.

He was still convicted of four counts of unlawful and indecent assault.

Similarly in a Melbourne courthouse, another convicted child sex offender stood up to read an apology but his victims walked out in disgust.

Be prepared that your victim may not be willing to accept an apology and there are some crimes that are just too serious for an apology to really make a difference either to the victim or their family, or to the outcome of your case.

Ultimately the decision is up to you on whether or not you want to write apology letters.

But if you do decide to do them, keep in mind that it is better not to write one at all than to write an insincere one.

Apology letters that come across as insincere, or that fail to accept full responsibility or to convey that you are truly sorry for your actions may do more harm than good.

In any case, an apology letter on its own should not be your only strategy.

It will be just one of the many things the judge or magistrate takes into account when deciding how best to deal with your case and what sentence you will ultimately receive.

You should consider whether or not you need professional help such as a good criminal lawyer, particularly if the charges you are up against are grave.

If you have any concerns or questions about your criminal case, speak to an experienced criminal lawyer to ensure you have the information to let you make the best possible decisions.

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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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