Guidelines for letters of recommendation on a criminal case

Feel free to share this link with whomever you've asked the write the letter. However, some letter-writers are going to break some of these rules (because you can’t control what people write). Don’t worry about it! If there is a problem with the letter, your attorney will either ask the writer for a new letter or just not use the letter in your mitigation packet.

Who should the letter be from?

The letter should be from someone who legitimately knows you. Preferably, the letter is from a current or former boss, a teacher, business leader, professional, or a respected member of the community. Letters from family members (and clergy) are generally viewed with suspicion by the prosecutors, but sometimes they can be powerful (if they appear to be objective about your character – not just letters from someone who loves you). If you can’t think of anyone that would help, ask your family/friends if they know someone that would be willing to meet you and get to know you. Remember, court cases take a long time. There is time for you to meet someone and impress them with your character. If you still can’t figure out who to ask, volunteer at a non-profit organization for 10 hours and ask the manager to write a brief note about how hard you worked.

Who should they be addressed to?

The letters should be addressed: “To Whom It May Concern.” However, it is ok if they are addressed to the court, judge, or prosecutor. It just isn't necessary.

How long should the letters be?

Ideally, the letters will be 3-5 paragraphs long. However, longer letters are ok (but the prosecutors will likely only skim long letters). And short letters are better than nothing.

What should the letters say?

The letter should be sincere. The writer should answer who they are, how they know you, what they have seen you accomplish (specific situations), the character traits that they have witnessed, and what they expect you to accomplish in the future.

Should the letter mention the arrest?

The letters should not mention the arrest (unless the letter writer has firsthand knowledge of the circumstances - in which case they are really a witness). However, if the writer mentions the arrest, it does not mean the letter won’t be helpful. Don’t throw it away! Your attorney will evaluate the letter to determine if there is an issue.

Should the letter ask the prosecutor to dismiss the case?

The letter writer should not ask for the prosecutors to “dismiss” the case or “go easy on you” or attempt to directly influence the prosecutor. The prosecutor will be aware of what the letter-writer wants just by the fact that they wrote the letter.

Does the letter have to be written on something specific?

Ideally, the letter is on business or personal letterhead and signed (then scanned and emailed to your attorney). However, this is not necessary. In fact, an email is often sufficient and easier to get people to write. The email can be sent to you or your attorney.

What contact info needs to be on the letter?

The letter should have contact information (phone number & email) for the letter-writer. It is unlikely that the prosecutor will contact the writer, but the option should be available. And it looks suspicious if there is no contact info.

How many letters should I get?

Three letters of recommendation is a good target number. The prosecutors are not going to spend hours reading letters of recommendation. However, if you get more than three, your attorney will likely whittle them down to the best three.

Remember: The information in the letters must be true!

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