How to: Sentencing Support Letters from Friends and Family
If you have a loved one who is facing a sentencing hearing, do not be surprised if his or her attorney asks that you help out for purposes of that sentencing. If the attorney does not aske you to testify on your loved one’s behalf, it is likely that the attorney will ask you to write a support letter on their behalf.
I know that whenever I ask a friend or family member to write such a letter, their first question is, “how do I write one?" And they often times feel overwhelmed. Writing a support letter SHOULD NOT be a difficult task. If it is, it’s likely that you are over-thinking it. Remember that the purpose of a support letter is to tell the judge why your loved one is not just another number – to humanize him or her.
Because judges often have many cases every day and a lot of information to absorb, also remember that your letter should not be a novel. A brief one to two page letter is usually ideal. And while attorneys may differ, I actual prefer that the letters be hand written but MUST BE legible.
When sitting down to begin, I suggest you follow the principles below:
1) Introduce yourself to the sentencing judge, providing information on how you know your loved one;
2) Provide the judge a brief background about yourself, which could include your employment, connection to the local jurisdiction, community service organizations you are involved in, etc.;
3) Highlight a few positive qualities about your loved one that sets him or her apart, such as academic or employment achievement, involvement and support with immediate and extended family or friends, community service he or she has participated in, involvement with a church, etc.;
4) (If applicable) That your loved has acknowledged what he or she has done was wrong and that he accepts full responsibility for his actions;
5) Any steps that your loved one has taken to demonstrate to the judge that he or she is remorseful for his actions and will not reoffend; and
6) A REASONABLE request of leniency from the judge on behalf of your loved one (by reasonable I mean if your loved one is facing multiple years in jail, you should not be asking for him to serve a week)
Clearly this list is neither exclusive nor mandatory. You may not know enough information to provide all of these points in your letter or some do not apply to your love one. Nevertheless, this list should give you a solid foundation of what a helpful sentencing letter would include.
Best of luck,
James S. Abrenio