Character Reference Letters

What level of of influence do

character reference letters have at the

sentencing hearing?

Oh I estimated not too long ago, just a

rough calculation, that I've read

somewhere between 30,000 40,000

character reference letters on behalf of

defendants. It's not unusual for defendants to submit

seven, eight, or even nine character reference letters.

I had a case last year where I had 93 character reference letters. That was

a little bit too much. In that case, all of the character reference letters looked

the same. Later, I found out after

questioning that the defense lawyers, and

they were very honest in responding, that

the wife of the defendant sent out a

form letter to all these people. All of

the character reference letters had the same phrases, and the letters just

adopted the phrases. So I didn't give

much weight to those letters. But i

give a lot of weight to character reference letters if

somebody the person actually knows wrote the letter. And I consider

how long and how well they know the defendant. So I'd

much rather have a letter from some street

sweeper or a janitor that has known the

individual for you maybe more than

10 years or maybe most of their life

than a letter from a state senator or a

united states senator that's clearly

writing the character reference letter as a favor of the

family. They may not even know the individual.

So the status of the person writing the

character reference letter has very little bearing or influence on me.

I'm concerned with what they have to say and

how they came about acquiring the

information the described in the character reference letter that is helpful to me. I

get offended when they tell me what the

sentence should be. For example, a lot of times they say,

know please give the person probation.

Well maybe they're an armed career

criminal and they're looking at a

potential life sentence.

Gee whiz they're not going to get

probation and uh maybe I'm just

idiosyncratic but i bristle when people

tell me what I should do. Instead, in a character reference letter,

tell me how you know the person, tell me what

their character

is like and and then let me decide all that fits

into an appropriate sentence. The person that writes the character reference letter

doesn't have the job to tell the judge what an

appropriate sentence should be. And so

give me the facts of how you know the

person, tell me why you know what their good

qualities are, what you think their

prospects are for rehabilitation. In the character reference letter, tell me

anything that you think would be helpful.

But stay away from actually telling me

what a sentence ought to be. Because you're

not in a position to know anything about what the sentence should be. So that's

kind of how I look at character reference letters. I think most of

my colleagues look at the importance of character reference letters in a very

similar fashion. For more information contact Michael@MichaelSantos.com / 415-419-1728.