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How to write a Character Letter On Behalf of an Accused

A well drafted  character reference can have an impact in negotiations that a defence counsel may engage in with the Crown Attorney to resolve criminal charges.

If there is a guilty plea a well written character letter can play an important part in a Judge’s consideration on what sentence should be imposed by the Court.

To have any real impact on the Court, a character letter should be addressed to the Ontario or Superior Court of Justice.  A “to whom it may concern” letter with obviously no knowledge of the issues that an accused person is facing before a criminal court will not have much impact – because it is clear that the individual may not appreciate the situation.

If you seeking a character letter or are asked by an accused person to write a character letter, it is very helpful if the author is able to illustrate an assessment of the person’s character by providing examples and stories. This is better than a general statement of your assessment of their character.  For example:

Instead of:

“Mary Jones is a good person. She is kind and generous.”

It is better to provide more detail as to why you have come to the conclusion that you set out in your character letter.  For example:

“Mary Jones is very generous with her time and money. I remember seeing our elderly neighbour struggling to remove graffiti from his garage. Mary became quiet and left for a short time. A short time later, I saw  her helping our neighbour scrub the graffiti from the garage with cleaners that she had purchased from the hardware store. Mary spent the next  hour working on the garage until the graffiti was all removed. This is just one example of how she demonstrates his generosity and compassion to others.”

How the Character Reference Should Be Set Out

  1. The character reference should be addressed to “The Ontario Court of Justice” or “The Superior Court of Justice”
  2. The salutation (where you would normally put Dear Mr.___) should be “Your Honour.”;
  3. The reference should be typed if possible (but this is not absolutely necessary);
  4. The reference should be on official letterhead, if possible and appropriate;
  5. The reference should indicate how long you have known the person and in what capacity (are you their relative, employer, friend of the family, teacher?);
  6. The reference should state that you are aware that the person has been charged with the specific offence/s;
  7. Make sure that you are aware of whether they have previously been charged with a similar offence. The character or reference letter will have little impact on the Court if you state that “the offence is totally out of character” – if that person has been convicted of similar offences previously;
  8. If applicable and true, mention that the person has expressed remorse for what they have done and describe your observations of how they have suffered anxiety as a result of being charged by police and going through the Court process;
  9. Outline any personal circumstances of which you are aware that may have contributed to the commission of the offence. While you should state these – be careful not to shift the blame onto others;
  10. Provide your contact particulars in case further information is wanted.

What Should Not Be in a Character Reference

  • Do not suggest the penalty to be imposed.
  • Do not be critical of the law or of the victim.
  • Do not say anything that is not true.
  • Do not make submissions or speeches.


Currie Law criminal lawyers defend people who have been charged with criminal offences throughout Oakville, Milton, Mississauga, Hamilton, Georgetown, Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo, St Catharines, Burlington, Hamilton and the Niagara Region. We also take cases in other regions so please call us if your area is not listed

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