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Do You Need a Character Reference for Court and Why?

A character reference is a written testimony about a person’s character.

If you have pleaded guilty or been found guilty of a criminal offence, you might be wondering whether you should organise a written character reference for the court to consider before sentencing.

Here, we discuss whether you need a character reference for court, as well as some advantages that a character reference for court can provide.


What Is A Character Reference?

A character reference is a written testimony about a person’s character. If someone writes you a character reference for court, they are essentially vouching for your character.

Character references take the form of formal written letters which should contain:

  1. The referee’s identity and qualifications
  2. The relationship of the referee to the accused
  3. An acknowledgement of the charges that have been brought against the accused
  4. The referee’s opinion of the character of the accused in question

An example of a written character reference can be found here.


Do I Need A Character Reference for Court?

While you are not legally required to provide the court with a character reference, character references can go a long way in supporting your case and can be an important factor in determining the severity of a sentence.

This is because character references are an effective way to communicate the positive attributes of the accused to the judge. They can also demonstrate that the crime committed may have been out of character for the accused.

In fact, courts are legally required to take character references into consideration if the reference contains matters relevant to potential mitigating factors which could include the accused:

  • Having no previous criminal record
  • Being of good character
  • Being unlikely to reoffend


Who Should Write My Character Reference?

An individual writing a character reference to be presented to the court is called a ‘referee’. It is important to choose a referee who will present your character favourably, understands the seriousness of the situation and will write in an appropriately sincere and unexaggerated tone.

Your referee should be someone who has known you for a long period of time and is able to write honestly and accurately about your character. Referees can be anyone that knows you personally, such as family members, co-workers or close friends.

It is worth noting that if possible, you may want to avoid having an immediate family member write the reference. This is because the court may suspect that since the referee is so directly related to you, they may be willing to write anything in order to assist you.


What Should My Referee Include In My Character Reference For Court?

Firstly, a character reference for court should ideally be typed on letterhead, signed and dated, and addressed to ‘The Presiding Magistrate’ or ‘Your Honour.’

Your referee should start the reference by providing information about who they are before concisely outlining the relationship between them and yourself. They should also discuss your personality and behaviour, giving the court a general overview of your character. They may mention positive traits about you, for instance, that you are typically trustworthy and empathetic.

When describing your personality, the referee should bear in mind that specific details regarding the character of the accused are more likely to be considered than general comments. For example, vaguely stating that the accused is a “nice, generous person” is less likely to sway a judge than explaining how their actions demonstrate that they are nice and generous.

It’s important to note that your referee must acknowledge that they are aware of the charges of which you are guilty. They should also make reference to any related previous offences you have been found guilty of or plead guilty to, letting the court know that they are making this character reference with full knowledge of your actions. They might further explain that you have made it clear to them how ashamed you are of your actions, and how unlikely you are to re-offend.

The referee should not attempt to further incriminate the accused, make any suggestion as to appropriate sentencing, or in any way attempt to deceive the court or be untruthful.

If the accused’s actions that resulted in their charge was uncharacteristic of them, this should also be explicitly stated in the letter.

It can also be worth organising multiple character references, which increases the impact of the references through corroboration.


Seeking Legal Advice About A Character Reference For Court?

A well-constructed character reference can hold significant weight in a court’s decisions regarding sentencing. If you have been accused of a criminal or traffic offence and require assistance regarding character references in court, our expert lawyers at Guest Lawyers can assist as well as ensure that you are represented in the best possible manner.

If you are in the process of being charged with an alleged crime or have been found guilty and are approaching sentencing, do not hesitate to get in touch with us, either via email or our phone line on (07) 3236 0266.