When a person is pleading guilty (or has been found guilty) in the Magistrates Court, the Magistrate is permitted to take into account the person’s character for sentencing purposes.
Evidence of good character may result in the Magistrate imposing a lesser sentence than he or she might have otherwise settled on. You can assist a person in this situation to establish good character by providing them with a written character reference. A character reference is a letter addressed to the Magistrate which will be read before sentencing. You ought to consider the following when it comes to writing such a reference.
- Your character reference should be straight to the point as there are typically a lot of cases to get through in court most days. Try and keep it to one page and do not use it as a means of telling the Magistrate what to do. In other words avoid statements such as ‘In my view he should get a fine’.
- If you are an employer or service provider then you should use your organisation’s letterhead for the reference. Do not use a letterhead if it is inappropriate to do so and your organisation is unaware of you providing the reference.
- The reference should be typed, dated, signed by hand (not electronically) and addressed to ‘The Presiding Magistrate’ at the relevant courthouse.
- You ought to state your basic details, such as ‘I am the employer of Jermaine, which is a company based in the South West’.
- Include information about your involvement in, and contribution to, your community if appropriate eg if you are a local councillor, school principal, or a Justice of the Peace etc.
- Describe the length of time and circumstances in which you have known the person eg ‘I have known Martin as a family friend for 25 years’ etc.
- Make clear that you are aware of the charges the defendant is being sentenced on and the plea of guilty eg ‘I am aware Harriette is pleading guilty to …’
- You should make clear that you aware of any previous similar convictions eg Taleisha has advised me that she pleaded guilty to a similar offence in 2015’.
- Include your observations of the defendant’s character eg ‘I have noticed that since the offence, Peter has expressed a great deal of remorse which I believe to be genuine. The offence seemed very out-of-character as I have always observed him to be a fairly quiet and diligent colleague who is always willing to help other people.’
- If appropriate, you can also mention what impact a heavy penalty may have on the person. For example, ‘I am aware that Barry needs to maintain a clean criminal record to continue in his current employment and is genuinely concerned about his future employment options should he lose his job’.
- Also, try not to exaggerate. For example, avoid phrases such as ‘Matilda is the best person I have ever met’. Rather, use sensible phrases such as ‘In the time that I have known Matilda, she has shown herself to be a caring and generous person and I have assisted her in fundraising efforts for her local netball team.’
Finally, if you have read this far and think that you need some practical advice or assistance in relation to your situation, then now is probably the time to get in touch.
Austral Legal can help and we offer an initial discounted 30-minute SmartMove appointment for $80 by phone or in person at our office.
Bookings can be made online, or simply by phoning our office on 08 9745 9550. Once we have a handle on what is required, we may well be able to offer a fixed fee for any further legal services, giving you cost certainty from the start. Austral Legal. Practical advice.