Letters of Support in Criminal Sentencing Hearings
Letters relevant to punishment are allowed in sentencing hearings in state and federal court. Gathering letters of support is a good thing for your client’s family to do, but they often do not know how to go about it. Here is an example of guidance I provided in a recent gun case.
Guidelines in writing letters of support: To Ron Smith’s friends and family: Thank you for your willingness to help Ron by writing a letter of support for him. The first thing to keep in mind is that letters should never be sent directly to the judge. ALL letters need to be addressed to me personally and sent to me at the following address: ………. Once I receive all of the letters, I will then file them with the clerk in an appropriate manner. The judge will see the letters, but I have to be the one to file them with the clerk.
Here is an example of what the letter could say: Dear Judge Campbell: I have known Mr. Smith for 20 years through the church. Mr. Smith’s lawyer has informed us that he was found guilty of possession of an automatic weapon. I understand that this is against the law. I would ask that you please consider giving Ron the lowest possible sentence. He is not a criminal. He has always worked really hard throughout his life to help his friends and family. I believe that he will not violate the law again and that he has learned from this. Very truly yours, Steve Brown.
The above letter is just a suggestion. It is important that you put your name and address on the letter. It is also important for you to put in the letter who you are and how you know Mr. Smith. It can be through church, school, work, or because you are related to him in some way. I want you to please put in the letter how long you have known Mr. Smith. If you wish, you can put in the letter what type of work you do, if any, or you can put the letter on your office letterhead if you have some, but that is not necessary.
It is important that you put in the letter that you understand that Mr. Smith has been convicted. We are going to have a sentencing hearing in a few weeks and the judge will decide how long Mr. Smith goes to prison. There is no set way as to how you should write your letter. You should write anything that comes from your heart as to how you know Mr. Smith and why the judge should grant him some sort of leniency.
Any stories or facts you want to add about Mr. Smith would be fine. There is no such thing as a “bad” letter. I read all of the letters, and if there is some horrible thing in the letter, I will just not use that letter. You can type the letter or write it out in long hand. It does not matter just as long as somebody can read it.
People ask if they can write a letter to the prosecutor or write to some congressman to try to help their family member or friend. The answer to this is that the only thing that will help is letters of support being sent directly to me as I have outlined above. Please do not contact the judge in any shape, form or fashion. He will hold that against Mr. Smith if you do. Do not contact the prosecutor. He is on the other side and he has his job to do as I do mine.
Please send these in so that I have them by April 2. Thank you for your help Letters like this have helped me in countless cases. They DO have a positive effect just as letters against the person can hurt and add unnecessary time to the sentence.