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Character Reference Letters

Using Character Reference Letters in Utah Criminal Defense Cases

Character reference letters can play an important role in both negotiating a resolution with a prosecutor in a criminal case and/or presenting the case to a judge at a sentencing hearing. Not every case will benefit from character reference letters. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you determine what strategy is most appropriate for your case. But in cases that may benefit from such letters, they should be presented first to your defense attorney to review before anything is submitted to the prosecutor or to the judge. Your attorney can help ensure that the letters are presented in a way and at a time that will be most beneficial to your case.

NOTE: The information on this page is premised on the idea that a person is working toward a negotiated resolution or preparing for a sentencing hearing. A person intending to take their case to trial may need to use very different techniques or strategies. Further, this information is general in nature and should not be treated as legal advice. If you are facing criminal charges, there are many variables that can affect what strategy may be best in defending your case. Consultation with an attorney is STRONGLY advised before beginning efforts to clear your record. NO INCRIMINATING INFORMATION SHOULD BE PRESENTED TO THE COURT OR PROSECUTOR WITHOUT FIRST CONSULTING AN ATTORNEY AND CONSIDERING THE POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES OF DOING SO. Contact us today to see what the right criminal defense attorney can do for you.

Tips for Getting Good Letters

Character reference letters can help give a judge or prosecutor a better idea of who you are as a person and help them to see you as more than just a case number. The facts or events leading up to the filing of a criminal charge will never provide a complete picture of who you are. Obtaining letters from people who know you in a variety of contexts can help the judge or prosecutor see the various sides of you and your life. Examples of potential writers can include close friends, therapists, community leaders, religious leaders, employers, co-workers, and family members (parents, spouse, siblings, or adult children). Talk with your attorney about your specific case and who might be able to provide the best letters for you.

You may want to consider obtaining letters from people who already know about your pending criminal case. If no one knows about your criminal charge, you DO NOT have to start telling them now. But if there are individuals who are aware of your case and can still speak favorably of your character and actions, letters from these individuals can sometimes be the most persuasive. Writers generally should not discuss any of the facts of the case - that typically involves issues that are better addressed directly through the court. Again, it is important to talk with your attorney before submitting anything to the court or to the prosecutor.

Letters from people who know your criminal case should focus on positive things you have done and positive character traits they have observed - things that help to demonstrate that the events or acts involved in the criminal case do not represent your overall nature or character. or you have developed in the years since the criminal case began. Any mention of your criminal record should be no more than one or two sentences. The goal of these letters is to provide a picture of who you have become and to persuade the court that you deserve to have your record cleared.

If you request letters from people who are not aware of your criminal case, you can ask for a general character reference letter addressed “To Whom it May Concern.” The letter does not need to be addressed to the court and does not need to make any reference to any criminal case.

What to Put in a Letter - The Basics

There is no script or formula for a good criminal defense character reference letter. The following bullet points are intended only as an outline of some ideas for writers to consider as they prepare their letters.
  • Who is writing?
  • How do they know you (including what context and how long)?
  • What is their impression of your character as a person generally?
  • Are they aware of your pending criminal case, and if so, is there anything they have observed about your conduct or character that gives them reason to conclude that there are no ongoing related issues, or that any related issues are being appropriately addressed?
  • Are there specific positive activities, accomplishments, or involvements they are aware of that demonstrate good character or that demonstrate a commitment to fully addressing any related issues?
  • (Remember that a character reference letter is not a place to debate the merits or strength of the prosecutor’s case or to complain about police conduct.)

This information is general in nature and should not be treated as legal advice. Always consult with your attorney before taking any actions that could negatively affect the outcome of your case. Each criminal case is unique, and what works well in one case may not be beneficial in another case.

Finding a Criminal Attorney to Clear Your Record

Utah Criminal Defense LawyerIf you are facing criminal prosecution in Utah, having an experienced criminal attorney can be critical. Each case is unique, and requires individual attention, analysis, and care to develop a defense strategy designed to get the best results possible. Contact us today to see the difference the right defense attorney can make for you.how we can help you.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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